COLUMBUS – The way this first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal unfolded, with difficult field conditions and two red cards on Tuesday night, Real Salt Lake are certainly upbeat about the scoreless draw earned at Crew Stadium.
“We’re pleased with the result,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said in the postgame press conference. “We’re down a man for 30 minutes and we walk away with a shutout at halftime of a two–game series. Tonight was more of a battle than it was a soccer game.”
It wasn’t the vintage Real Salt Lake performance that fans are accustomed to. The ball movement was slow and predictable and RSL failed to manage either a shot on goal or a corner kick in the match.
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“I think more than anything it’s the conditions of the match tonight,” Kreis said. “An ugly game to watch, wasn’t it? When that happens, you don’t possess the ball well enough and the quality in the attacking third is still lacking.
[inline_node:329272]“Hopefully we’ll have better weather and better field conditions [at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 1],” he added. “Our field will be covered. I’m not sure why this field wasn’t. I was told there was a cover. We’ll create a better pitch which will in turn create a better soccer match next week.”
RSL trained on the Crew Stadium game field on Monday afternoon and claimed it was in better shape than they thought it would be. Then an overnight snowfall coupled with freezing conditions meant the Crew Stadium staff were hard at work on Tuesday morning to restore the surface.
“When we trained on it yesterday it was fantastic; it was fine,” RSL midfielder Will Johnson said. “Then overnight something slipped up where they didn’t cover it and it snowed, and it froze.
“You had to be safe with the ball and we weren’t as fluid as we like,” Johnson added. “But how much is that being the first game of the year or the field? Who knows? It is what it is.”
Echoed RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, “A lot had to do with the field. In some places, it was decent, some places it was super bumpy. We had to play the game the way it was presented to us.”
Both 2010 MLS Defender of the Year finalist Nat Borchers and right back Tony Beltran received red cards during the match and will be forced to miss the series finale in Utah.
Borchers claims his 72nd-minute red card for an incident with Crew forward Emilio Renteria was unjustified.
“Myself and Rentería were fighting for position and he took a swing at me with his elbow and connected,” Borchers said. “Then he tried to run through and I put my knee up and he fell over and made a meal out of it.
“If you want to use an analogy, what I did was petty theft and what he did was first-degree felony,” Borchers added. “It’ll be interesting to see what CONCACAF does with this incident. I think it was unfair judgment against me and I’m really disappointed.”
Rentería, meanwhile, denied that he ever raised his elbow. The Venezuelan forward says he slapped down Borchers’ arm when confronted by the defender and then was later kicked by Borchers.
Regardless of whose story rings true, Kreis will have to make do without two key pieces in his back line for the return leg of the series.
“Nat, in particular, is an extremely important player for us and very vocal in the back,” Kreis said. “Tony [Beltran] has played a lot of games for us as well. Our depth will be tested, as is Columbus right now.”