COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — If there’s one message Tyrone Marshall can give to some of the younger Colorado Rapids players about the CONCACAF Champions League experience in other countries, it’s that things will go wrong.
And you may never know why they do. International airport delays and inexplicable hotel problems are commonplace. And that’s all before anybody steps on the field.
The key, Marshall says, is to be ready for any of it.
“Sometimes, games are won that way and you can be intimidated if you are not used to it,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “There is always something that can go wrong and you have to be mentally and physically prepared before you get on the pitch.”
The Rapids found out at least part of their CCL fate on Wednesday, when they learned they’ll be in Group B when group play begins later this summer. They’re joined by Real España (Honduras), the winner of the Santos Laguna (Mexico) vs. Olimpia (Honduras) preliminary round matchup and the winner of the matchup between Metapán (El Salvador) and the Caribbean Football Union first-place finisher.
The Rapids will have several players with Champions League experience or similar big-time matches in Central America. Brian Mullan and Jeff Larentowicz have both played in the tournament, and Pablo Mastroeni and Conor Casey have played for the US national team in Central America in World Cup qualifying games. Midfielder Jamie Smith has also played in UEFA Champions League games for Celtic.
Marshall has played for both Seattle and the LA Galaxy in the tournament as well, and international games for Jamaica in places like Mexico, El Salvador and the Caribbean.
Wherever they end up, this experience will be similar. Aside from the pregame problems, playing in foreign stadiums will be eye opening for those who have not done it before. Some crowds throw coins, some throw pebbles and armed security guards could line certain venues.
It’s not exactly buying Dipping Dots at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“It’s never easy going into these foreign countries,” Marshall said. “Here, you fly into New York or DC and get nice food in the hotels. At home, it’s taking the kids on the field and shaking hands. It’s a totally different ball game in these places.”
Added Conor Casey to the Rapids official website, “It’s always pretty unruly environments and the fans are usually a little different than here — it’s their only sport and they go nuts. Anytime you go into a Central American stadium you know you’re going to have your work cut out for you just in terms of the fans and the environment.”
Rapids head coach Gary Smith admitted not knowing all that much yet about any of the possible opponents, but he knows it’s important not to write off any teams.
“To me, it could be like playing Everton,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com. “You are going to be playing a top 10 team in a very strong league.”