So if you looked at the stat sheet from Tuesday or watched the match you have little doubt who was the dominant team, but we live in a results driven world and for RSL the result wasn’t there. Heck you can go back to the first match in Costa Rica, where despite being down a man for 30 minutes, RSL dominated possession, passing, shots, and shots on goal, but came up short in a 1-0 loss, to know that without scoring goals from all those chances, well it is hard to win a match.
Despite the weather on Tuesday, the match was very high action and fast paced in the first half with both sides creating some good offensive chances. RSL had the better of play and had several chances to score, but as has happened too many times this year, we failed to finish those chances. It should come as little surprise to anyone that as the second half progressed that Herediano packed it in and slowed down both the pace and the match as often as they could. As the end of the match drew near we were left with a match that the official had lost control of as Herediano simply laid down, fell down, faked injuries, and even took intentional yellow cards for delay. I am left wondering if when they first started those tactics (about the 70th minute) if he had issued a yellow or two for delay if the match might not have digressed to the pathetic level it did.
Still to lay blame on the officials or tactics/antics of CS Herediano for the loss would be wrong and missing the point. In a must win match, you must score, you must take shots when they are presented to you, and must finish your chances. RSL had 11 corner kicks, 18 free kicks, and 26 crosses from open play, and despite ending up with 18 shots and 8 of those being on goal, RSL was unable to get the single goal that would have advanced them to the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Tuesday night in Salt Lake City is forecast to be cold, wet, and nasty. That is only appropriate given that the play on a bit nasty as both sides will be looking to be the team that will advance from group 2 to the knockout rounds of the Champions League. CS Herediano holds the upper hand as they currently have 9 points to RSL’s 6, for RSL the reality is simple: Win. OK not that simple, RSL must either win 1-0, or they must win by 2 goals in order to advance. A 1-0 win would see the two sides go to the tiebreakers, and it would be the 6th tiebreaker (GD in all group stage matches) that would give RSL the win with the 1-0 result (it would boost RSL’s overall GD to a +3, and drop Herediano to a +2). A two goal win by RSL would give us the second tiebreaker (head to head GD) as RSL lost the first leg 1-0, so a 2 goal win would advance RSL via a different tiebreaker.
RSL faces a huge question on Tuesday, who will fill in for Alvaro Saborio? Where will the goals come from? RSL has scored just 3 goals in their 3 CCL matches so far this year, Saborio has two of them and Kyle Beckerman the other. All of RSL’s goals in Champions League action have come in the second half of matches. Real Salt Lake are 3-1-1 in their last 5 league matches and currently 5th in MLS with a 17-11-5 record.
CS Herediano on the other hand have scored 3 of their 4 goals in the first half of their matches, each of their goals has been scored by a different player: Elías Aguilar, Pablo Salazar, Waylon Francis, and Enoc Pérez. It was Aguilar who scored against RSL when the teams faced off in Costa Rica. Herediano are 2-1-2 in their last 5 league matches and currently sit in 3rd place in league play with a overall 7-3-6 record.
It is an interesting question that plaques fans around Major League Soccer, and one that RSL fans are familiar with, “What matters most”? Each year there are four trophies that MLS teams have a chance to compete for, the US Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and a select few teams compete for the CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Which of these is the most important for teams and their fans?
I think that the Supporters’ Shield has lost a lot of the prestige it once held, now I know that some people will say that the new format of the season shouldn’t matter as MLS often played what was an unbalanced schedule in the past, and they are correct. What those people miss is that in every season before 2012, every MLS team played every other MLS team at least twice a year, once at home and once away. 2012 marks the first time that the schedule failed to at least have that commonality to it, and while teams often would play more than those matches, they always at least played those. So while the Supporters’ Shield holds a lower spot for many than it once did, it does still hold a couple of huge rewards for the team that wins it. First, the team with the best record can look forward to being the home team throughout the playoffs and that includes hosting MLS Cup if they make it that far. Second, and maybe more importantly is a spot in the following years CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
Then there is the red headed step child of soccer in the US, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. I am not sure why this tournament has failed to take grip in the US, but I believe a part of the reason is that while soccer is very popular in the US, the lack of TV coverage both of MLS and the US Open Cup mean few people know the players or teams. Of course some of the soccer purists I know will say that US Soccer’s constant changing of who can play in the tournament and how hosting rights are determined also hurt the legitimacy of the US Open Cup. I am not sure if the US Open Cup will ever become as popular and important to fans and teams as it should be in the US, until there are core changes in the tournament, but while there is prize money at the end of the rainbow again the biggest prize is a coveted CCL spot.