Can Real Salt Lake make history at home in the second leg of the CONCACAF final?
Real Salt Lake: RSL continues to shock North American soccer, this time by going into the 95-degree weather in Monterrey and securing a 2-2 draw. Nobody would have been surprised if Real had folded like a cheap shirt when Monterrey went up 2-1 and kept pouring on the pressure, but Salt Lake showed some marvelous composure in a hostile environment and stunned the raucous sellout crowd with a late equalizer. No, it wasn't a masterful game from the American side, but any time you get a result in Mexico, it's a positive; I don't care how you did it.
Monterrey: Humberto Suazo has scored in his last two CONCACAF Champions League matches, albeit both from the penalty spot. Suazo is not on a scoring binge as he tends to go on but he had two consecutive 90-minute efforts for Monterrey, which is something he had done since February. With more time on the field and more opportunity to play with his teammates, Suazo is bound to break through and be as dangerous at Rio Tinto Stadium as he was in Estado Tecnologico.
Salt Lake: We haven't seen RSL's back line pushed around like that in a long time. The midfield couldn't track runners, the defense was scrambling around like mice on Red Bull, and Jamison Olave actually looked mortal. Believe it or not, giving up two goals is a rarity for Salt Lake, and honestly they were fortunate not to give up more. The defense is going to have to sort things out double quick or Monterrey has a real shot to win the trophy and end Real's home unbeaten streak.
Monterrey: Jesus Zavala scored a goal for Monterrey in its 1-1 draw against Puebla on the weekend, but instead of trying to carry that momentum over into the final, Zavala will wonder what may have been. Zavala is one of a handful of players out of this match. Both Zavala and De Nigris picked up yellow cards in the first leg and will be suspended for the match. Their absences will put more pressure on players like Dario Carreno and Osvaldo Martinez as well as other starters such as Neri Cardozo and Walter Ayovi to create offense and not having to rely solely on Suazo.
Salt Lake: Knowing that a win or a low-scoring draw will be enough gives head coach Jason Kreis some options regarding how he approaches the game. He can go out and attack Monterrey hard, or focus on defending tough and frustrating them. We know that Monterrey must attack, so the key in this one will be to sort out the defensive issues that plagued them last week, and be able to do so without Kyle Beckerman. But all is not lost - in 10 matches over the last two years where Beckerman did not play, RSL are a stellar 7-0-3.
Monterrey: Aside from De Nigris and Zavala, Monterrey will be without Luis Perez who was injured in the first leg of the series, as well as Sergio Santana. Minus two midfielders and two forwards, Monterrey will have to move some players around. Neri Cardozo and Jesus Arellano may get the starts on the flanks with Ayovi and Martinez lining up centrally. Suazo's strike partner is perhaps the biggest question mark. The team will likely stay in their 4-4-2, though, instead of moving pieces around to compensate for the loss. Monterrey needs to score goals in order to win so an emphasis on going forward should be evident from the beginning.
Salt Lake: Three intangibles are working against Monterrey this week. First, the crowd. Real are that much better when they're supported by a strong home crowd. Second, the weather. With temps in the 40's forecast for the match, it's a far cry from the 90's Monterrey excel in. Third, the altitude. The air in Sandy is very thin for low-lying teams, especially if they have to chase the ball a lot. The one intangible working against RSL is that Monterrey are not having a good league season. They will be desperate to win the one trophy that's still within their reach.
Monterrey: What has separated Monterrey's league brethren from their American counterparts in the past still holds - as a representative from the Mexican league, Monterrey is part of the better league. However, that won't work in this leg. Monterrey's league form has been poor over the last couple of months and the team seems to arrive at Rio Tinto on fumes. Instead of focusing on their league and how dominant it has been over MLS in the past, Monterrey must re-discover the spark and attitude the team displayed during their title runs in 2009 and 2010. Pulling out road results was a calling card of this team during their title runs, particularly during the Clausura 2009 season.
Jeremy Horton: This match feels like a nailbiter to me. I think the teams will be evenly matched and there will be moments of euphoria - and despair - for both teams. In the end though, Salt Lake are good enough at home to get the job done, and right now this RSL team has an air of destiny about them. 1-1 will be the final and Real Salt Lake will walk away with the trophy.
Luis Bueno: Monterrey will give Real Salt Lake a game and will not succumb until the dying moments, but a 1-1 draw is the best Rayados will muster up.
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