CCL preview: RSL must win at Tauro to keep hopes alive

TAURO FC vs. REAL SALT LAKE
Estadio Rommel Fernández, Panama City, Panama
Sept. 18, 2012 (Week 4)
8 pm ET (Fox Soccer)

Real Salt Lake head south to Panama on Tuesday following a 12-day layoff needing nothing short of a victory at Tauro FC in their third of four CONCACAF Champions League matchdays in order to control their destiny in the group and keep their quarterfinal hopes alive.

RSL Injury Report:

OUT: GK Lalo Fernández (R wrist fracture); DOUBTFUL: DF Kwame Watson-Siriboe (R leg strain); PROBABLE: DF Kenny Mansally (L knee MCL sprain)

RSL Disciplinary Status:

SUSPENDED: Kyle Beckerman (Ejection 8/21 vs. Tauro)
SUSPENDED AFTER NEXT CAUTION: FW Álvaro Saborío, DF Kenny Mansally

Beckerman suspended from action

Due to the 72nd minute ejection to RSL captain Kyle Beckerman back on Aug. 21, the U.S. international and perennial starter is not with the team in Panama City.

Since May 2008, when Beckerman was installed as RSL’s captain and cemented his place as the holding mid in Kreis’ midfield diamond, RSL have posted a 10-8-10 mark the 28 games (9-6-9 in MLS play, 1-1-0 in CCL, 0-1-1 Open Cup) without the solid, dynamic two-way player.

Half of those wins have come with MF Ned Grabaovoy in Beckerman’s spot, the versatile veteran posting a 5-3-4 mark. Yordany Alvarez (3-5-2), Will Johnson (0-0-1) and Jean Alexandre (2-0-3) have also filled in.

Defense locked in, attack struggling

Starting with the 2-0 home win over Tauro FC in CCL play on August 21, RSL have allowed just one goal in 360 minutes, posting a trio of defensive shutouts prior to a 93rd minute penalty on Sept. 6 in the 0-1 loss at Houston. However, the RSL attack has scored just once – MF  Will Johnson vs. DC on Sept. 1 – on top of the pair against Tauro.

RSL – who were shut out only three times in their first 17 games – have suffered six clean sheets in their last 14 games across all competitions after the Houston debacle.

Rematch against Tauro FC

Real Salt Lake chalked up a 2-0 home victory in a must-win affair over Panamanian champions Tauro FC back on August 21 in their second of four CONCACAF Champions League Group 2 matches. Early second-half goals by FW Álvaro Saborio and captain Kyle Beckerman proved the difference in a match dominated by RSL, who outshot the visitors 16-3 (8-2 on goal).

RSL dropped their 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League opener against Herediano at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica by coming out flat, allowing a 14th-minute goal to the home side in a game marred by a Nat Borchers red card in the 57th minute and a Jamison Olave hamstring injury a few minutes later.

RSL travel in the return match at Tauro FC on Sept. 18, needing a win to catch up with Herediano, who defeated Tauro 1-0 in Panama on Thursday, Aug. 30. RSL need a sweep and a win by multiple goals on Oct. 23 in the Herediano visit to Rio Tinto Stadium in order to control their destiny.

Tuesday’s match at Estadio Rommel Fernández comes nearly two years to the day after RSL earned a 3-2 win in the same venue over Árabe Unido in group play of the 2010-11 CCL tournament, courtesy of a pair of Will Johnson goals that sandwiched a strike from Saborío

Complete 2012-13 CCL group stage scores and schedule

Finding health for the stretch run

RSL boss Jason Kreis expects to welcome back All-Star/Best XI center back Jamison Olave for the first time since July 31, when the hulking Colombian was injured at Herediano in the team’s CCL opener. Defender Chris Schuler appeared at left back for 90 minutes back on Sept. 6 in Houston in his first appearance since May 12.

All-time CCL history

The August 21 win against Tauro FC improved RSL to an all-time 7-4-3 mark in their CCL history, going 4-1-1 in group play in the 2010/11 tournament against Cruz Azul (MEX), Toronto FC (CAN) and Arabe Unido (PAN). Overall, RSL have now outscored their CONCACAF opponents 28-18, with a 19-12 advantage during the group stage.

RSL are now 6-1-0 at home (with a 20-9 goal +/-) in their CCL history, dropping only the heartbreaking second leg of the 2010-11 final, 0-1, to Monterrey (MEX). On the road in the CCL, RSL are now 1-3-3 overall (1-2-1 in group play, with an 8-9 goal differential), the semifinal loss at Saprissa (CRC) back in April 2011 still good enough to see them advance from the series.

Coming back from coneding first

The most disturbing trend in RSL’s group history is the fact that RSL have allowed the first goal in six out of eight games all-time. Prior to Aug. 21, Jason Kreis’ team had scored first only in the 3-1 home victory against Cruz Azul (MEX) that clinched the group title, as RSL became the first-ever MLS side to (and just the 2nd non-Mexican side) to win a CCL group. (LA and others joined the club in 2011-12.)

Familiarity with CCL demands

RSL boss Jason Kreis has several players at his disposal who have CCL experience, as 13 of the 20 players who traveled five weeks ago to Costa Rica played in prior CCL tournaments with RSL.

Another three of this year’s newcomers – DF Kenny Mansally (New England Revolution, 2007), FW Justin Braun (Chivas USA, 2008), MF Jonny Steele (Puerto Rico Islanders, 2009) – have first-hand CCL experience with other teams.

Two of RSL’s current players – MF Will Johnson and MF Ned Grabavoy – have appeared in all 14 of RSL’s previous CONCACAF matches, while only DF Tony Beltran did not start in the 2010-11 CCL Final amongst Kreis’ so-called “first-choice” XI.

RSL's international history

With the 2-0 win over Tauro FC on Aug. 21, RSL improved to 13-8-6 all-time in international contests, with a positive goal differential (45 goals for and 34 goals against). In meaningful international competition, RSL are now 7-4-3 (28 GF, 18 GA).

In the Jason Kreis era, RSL improved to 9-4-2 vs. visiting international squads (does NOT include league matches against visiting Canadian teams, against whom RSL are now 9-1-0 (24-9 goal +/-) after the July 27 win v VAN; however, DOES include CCL games vs Columbus).

Road-weary RSL seeking win away

RSL last won away from home on June 16 at Chivas USA, the 3-0 victory at The Home Depot Center preceding four consecutive MLS losses away from home (and five on the trot across all competitions) before the 0-0 draw at Philadelphia on Aug. 24. RSL are 4-7-3 (15 points) on the road in MLS play this year, just four points shy of matching the club record set last year by the historically road-weary side.

RSL dropped its lone previous CCL road match of the year, a 1-0 reverse on July 31 at Herediano.

RSL’s all-time MLS regular season road mark is 23-70-30 (.289; 113 GF, 200 GA) through 123 all-time road contests in league play. Since Jason Kreis took over in May, 2007, RSL’s MLS road mark is 19-46-25, with the new team mark of five road wins in 2011 exceeding the four achieved in 2010, and more than doubling the two earned in each of the 2007-09 seasons. Last year’s 5-8-4 road mark was good for 19 points, matching the 2010 team-record total (4-4-7 in 2010).