A week ago, Real Salt Lake met Santa Tecla FC in RSL’s second match of the Group Stage of CONCACAF Champions League and it was among the first times Salt Lake had seen the Salvadoran club play. Now with that scoreless draw on a bumpy artificial surface on a small pitch in El Salvador behind them, RSL is more prepared for the team that it will meet on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium as the Group Stage continues at 8 p.m. MT.
With Santa Tecla’s style of play now a bit more clear and their desperation for points in the club’s final match of the stage, RSL knows what to expect from the opposition.
“It’ll be feisty, they are playing for their quote-unquote ‘group advancement life.’ They have to win this game to have any chances of advancing. We’re expecting them to play a bit more attacking than we would normally expect a team on the road to play,” RSL General Manager Craig Waibel said on The Bill & OC Show on Wednesday. “But in terms of what we saw last week, they’re a feisty group. They’re extremely competitive. They’re very organized defensively. They do have some explosiveness in the attacking third.”
RSL enters the match on top of the Group G standings with four points from two matches at 1-0-1, tied on points with Municipal from Guatemala (1-1-1) despite playing one few match to this point. Earning a win tonight won’t clinch advancement for RSL, but could help in the case of a tiebreaker or for seeding in the Championship Round next February if Salt Lake advances out of the group.
Having two home matches, Waibel said, is crucial to finding the success RSL seeks in the regional tournament.
“In tournament group play, you have to win your home games to feel good about advancing,” he said. “The mentality that we’re bringing is certainly equal to last week, but the field and the surface and not having to travel is a great advantage for us coming into this week’s game.”
In addition to the potentially crucial Champions League clash, RSL also has to balance a tough weekend match with the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium on Sunday. And while Head Coach Jeff Cassar needs to adjust his lineups accordingly, it won’t be at the expense of driving toward victory on Thursday.
“We’ll be putting out a lineup that represents our intent on the result. We never enter a game not thinking we are going to win,” Waibel said. “We put out a group last week that was capable of winning and produced four or five good chances in a really hectic game given the circumstances. We’ll put out with the intention of taking this game and taking three points.”
Thursday’s match kicks off at 8 p.m. MT with national television coverage on Fox Sports 2 and the local radio broadcast on ESPN 700. To hear the full interview, click here.