By James Morgan
With Real Salt Lake’s hard-scrabble victory over Deportivo Saprissa at the always-intimidating Estadio Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica, MLS has broken new ground. For the first time in the CONCACAF Champion’s League’s modern incarnation, an MLS side has made it to the final.
While this is obviously huge for MLS and North American soccer in general, it raises a potentially loaded question: is RSL, and by extension, MLS, ready to take on a vaunted Mexican side like CF Monterrey?
The short answer is “yes.” RSL has dotted all it’s I’s and crossed all it’s T’s and by all accounts is a smoothly functioning world-class team that is certainly capable of running with the finest.
However, it is one thing to have reached such a rarefied level of play, and quite another to imagine that it’s sustainable or even repeatable, and while RSL may have weathered the dragon’s maw that is Estadio Saprissa, let us not get carried away and imagine that it is therefore necessarily capable of managing the same against CF Monterrey.
That said, let’s do some numbers, engage in a bit of informed speculation, and generate some hopefully sound conclusions courtesy of Jimmy’s Department of Rash Predictions.
Nuts and bolts:
In RSL, between owner Dave Checketts, General Manager Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Jason Kreis, we have an excellently managed side. The players know they are backed by a strong and calculating management with the result that the team has great morale.
Jamison Olave and Nat Borcher form the bedrock of a punishing back-line that allows few goals, and most of those at a cost.
In midfielder Javier Morales, RSL poses an additional threat in that at any time, he’s capable of picking up lay-offs or poor clearances for a shot on goal, often with devastating results. So too, Will Johnson who is known for covering large swathes of the pitch with a whithering presence and work rate.
Striker Alvaro Saborio, RSL’s first ever DP, is also a constant threat at forward. Drop your guard for an instant, and Saborio will, like as not, make you pay.
So far this season, RSL has displayed an excellent offense, great defense, and most importantly, the ability to stay cool under pressure, even when playing in blatantly hostile environs. RSL has been effective at controlling matches even where they’ve not controlled possession. This is a team that seems unflappable and that has an unequivocal belief in itself. Again, the take away point is that RSL’s organizational strength starts at the very top and trickles down.
That said, let’s talk about CF Monterrey.
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s trouble. One of the most storied sides in El Primera División de México, CF Monterrey ain’t no joke and would be a tough nut for any respectable side to crack. Add to that the fact that US sides have notoriously struggled in hostile Latin American venues and have played in the face of often blatantly biased officiating, and it’s easy to see that while RSL has a real shot at winning the CONCACAF Champions League Final, victory is by no means a foregone conclusion.
This is not, however, to say that CF Monterrey needs a nasty home crowd or biased Latin American officiating in order to beat RSL. The “Rayados” are a high-end side that is perfectly capable of defeating RSL on its own merits.
The most obvious thing to say about Monterrey is Chilean national team player, Humberto “El Chupete” Suazo, a striker who is arguably as good as any in the world, and a man who repeatedly finds the back of the net through a combination of speed and skill. Watch for him to test the RSL back-line in coordination with fellow striker Aldo de Nigris.
Ecuadorian Walter Ayovi and Argentine national Neri Cardozo are known threats at midfield; fast, skillful and aggressive, they are both able to score shots at long range.
CF Monterrey does not play a counter-attacking game, but their defense is strong as well, and if RSL is to have a chance, they need to go to Mexico looking for a win and not a draw.
The rash prediction:
The winner will be decided by how well RSL is able to defend at Monterrey in the first match, to be played on April 20. If RSL can maintain a draw, or lose by only one point, they will have a real chance at trouncing CF Monterrey at Sandy, Utah, in the second match, where the altitude and home crowd will play into their hands. If RSL loses the first match by two, it’s anyone’s guess who will win. If they lose it by three, forget about it, the party’s over. If RSL wins the first match, CF Monterrey is through, since it has almost zero chance of winning at Sandy, and we’ll see the dawning of a new era of international respectability for MLS as one of our own gets sent to the Club World Cup next December in Japan.