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RSL feeling confident in face of daunting task in Mexico

Real Salt Lake are the first MLS team to reach the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, where they will face reigning Mexican champions Monterrey on Wednesday night. The winner of the series advances to the 2011 Club World Cup, scheduled to take place in Japan in December.

Neither team has ever won the CONCACAF championship.

The first leg of the CCL final takes place at Monterrey’s Estadio Tecnologico.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Monterrey: Los Rayados snuck into the final thanks to a late penalty kick goal from Humberto Suazo in the second leg of their semifinal series with Cruz Azul. The match finished 1-1, and Monterrey advanced to the final, 3-2, on aggregate.

In the quarterfinals, Monterrey vanquished another Mexican side, Toluca, winning both legs 1-0 for a 2-0 aggregate victory.

The group stage was equally successful for los Rayados. Playing in Group C, the Mexican Clausura champions did not lose in six matches, earning a 5-0-1 record and conceding only four goals, tied with the Columbus Crew for the fewest of any team in the group stage. Two of their group stage wins came against the Seattle Sounders. 

Real Salt Lake: RSL are coming off an exciting 3-2 aggregate win over Saprissa (Costa Rica) in the semifinals. After prevailing in the home leg, 2-0, through goals from Álvaro Saborío and Fabian Espindola, RSL traveled to San José, where they lost the match 2-1, but hung on for the aggregate victory.

To reach the semis, RSL advanced past the Columbus Crew, 4-1, on aggregate, in the quarterfinals.

RSL reached the knockout stage after finishing top of Group A, ahead of Mexican side Cruz Azul. They posted a 4-1-1 record in group play, with the only loss coming away to Cruz Azul in a now-legendary 5-4 game played in a torrential downpour.

2010-11 CCL RECORD

Monterrey

OVERALL: Wins - 8, Draws - 2, Losses - 0. Goals For - 16, Goals Against 6.

HOME: Wins - 5, Draws - 0, Losses - 0. Goals For - 9, Goals Against - 3.

AWAY: Wins - 3, Draws - 2, Losses - 0. Goals For - 7. Goals Against - 3.

RSL

OVERALL: Wins - 6, Draws - 2, Losses - 2. Goals For - 24, Goals Against - 14.

HOME: Wins - 5, Draws - 0, Losses - 0. Goals For - 15, Goals Against - 4.

AWAY: Wins - 1, Draws - 2, Losses - 2. Goals For - 9, Goals Against - 10.

RECENT FORM

Monterrey: Los Rayados have struggled in domestic play in recent weeks. Lying third in their group and not assured of a place in the Clausura playoffs, they have failed to win in their last four Primera División matches, losing one and drawing three.

RSL: Jason Kreis’s side are at the top of their game. They have started the MLS season in perfect fashion, winning all four matches they have played so far. In those four games, they have scored eight goals and conceded only once. Midfielder Javier Morales and Paulo Jr. lead the team with two goals apiece.

YELLOW CARD WATCH

Players receive a one-game suspension for every two yellow cards picked up in CCL play. The following players are sitting on one caution.

Monterrey: W. Paredes, J. Arellano, J. Basanta, L. Pérez, S. Santana, de Nigris, S. Pérez, J. Zavala

RSL: K. Beckerman, J. Morales, J. Olave, R. Russell

KEY PLAYERS

Monterrey

Humberto Suazo: “Chupete,” a 29-year-old Chilean international striker, is a goal machine. Since returning from a loan stint at Spanish side Real Zaragoza in 2010, he has scored 20 goals in 24 appearances for Monterrey, including 25 goals in the sides run to the 2010 Apertura title. However, he has only one goal so far in the CCL.

Ricardo Osorio: The Mexican international leads the strict, disciplined backline for los Rayados. The 31-year-old World Cup veteran spent four years with Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt before joining Monterrey in the summer of 2010.

Aldo de Nigris: Suazo’s striking partner is Monterrey’s leading scorer in the 2010-11 CCL, with four goals. The 27-year-old

Real Salt Lake

Álvaro Saborío: The Costa Rican striker, who won the CONCACAF title with Saprissa in 2005, has scored eight goals so far in this edition of the CCL, good for second in the goalscoring rankings.

Jamison Olave: The Colombian defender’s size and tactical awareness will be tested against the strong and crafty Suazo.

Nick Rimando: The veteran goalkeeper has the quickness and experience to make the necessary saves. In the event of a penalty being called, Rimando is the best in MLS history, saving nearly 40% of the penalties he has faced.

OTHER STORYLINES

MLS in CONCACAF

RSL are the first American club to reach the final of the CONCACAF Champions League; however, MLS teams have previously reached the final of the continental championship, before the switch to a group-play format and the rebranding as CCL.

The LA Galaxy lost to Cruz Azul in the 1997 of what was then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup. At that time, MLS and Mexican teams did not have to compete in any group play or preliminary rounds; they received byes to the quarterfinals.

A year later, D.C. United won the Champions Cup, beating Mexican side Toluca, 1-0, in the final at RFK Stadium. In 2000, the Galaxy again reached the final, where the topped Honduran side Olimpia, 3-2, at the Rose Bowl. 

USA vs. Mexico

This final is the third CONCACAF championship final contested by teams from Mexico and the USA. But it marks the first time an MLS team will play a final match in Mexico.

Since the inception of MLS, no team has won in Mexico. MLS sides have gone 0-21-3 in all competitions. The last draw came in group play of the 2008-09 tournament, when the Houston Dynamo tied Pumas, 4-4, in Mexico City.

To add to the American struggles in Mexico, the US national team also has never won south of the border, posting a 0-23-1 record.