SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake already have a tough task in facing Western Conference contenders Vancouver Whitecaps at Rio Tinto Stadium on Friday night (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online). And compounding the difficulty is the fact the team opens its CONCACAF Champions League play in Costa Rica a few short days later.
After not qualifying for the 2011-12 CCL tournament, RSL are looking forward to attempting another deep run in the 2012-13 version – the team made it all the way to the final of the 2010-11 tourney before falling heartbreakingly 1-0 to Mexican club Monterrey at Rio Tinto in the second leg of the final, sealing a 3-2 aggregate loss. But coach Jason Kreis said that will have to wait.
WATCH: RSL's run to CCL 2011 finals
"It never works for me, and I don't think it works for this group to be considering two games at once," he said at training on Thursday. "We need to just be very, very focused on this first Vancouver game. It is an extremely important one to us, so we need to make the right decisions to put out the team we think gives us the best chance to win that game. After that, we'll evaluate where we are for Tuesday."
That type of focus on the task at hand has been instilled in the players as well.
"I think it is a mindset where we need to worry about the game Friday first," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "You never know how you're going to come out of the game with knocks and whatnot. You just need to concentrate on Friday, and then look forward to the CONCACAF. We're thinking about it, we're excited about; it's a big tournament. But we need three points on Friday."
Added defender Tony Beltran of the July 31 date with Herediano: "Of course we're aware of it. But the fact is, we got to get the work done Friday. It is a really important game league-wise. Vancouver is in third place [in the West] and we don't want to give up points here at this crucial time in the season. … We just want to focus on this next game and once it's done, once it's buried then we can turn our attention to Costa Rica."
Vancouver should come in beaming with confidence. After all, the Whitecaps enter fresh off a 2-1 win over league-leading San Jose Sunday, their second win of the season over the Quakes; RSL, on the other hand, were swept by the Supporters' Shield frontrunners. Furthermore, the recent additions of Dane Richards and Scotland national team captain Kenny Miller add to the dangerous pieces already in place.
"I know they have a lot of attacking pieces and they have done well for their second year," said Beltran. "They have some dangerous players, some big, high-profile players they just brought in, so we will just have to be organized, be alert."
While CONCACAF play is just around the corner, the message from RSL's coaches and players has been clear: The 'Caps deserve their full attention.
"I've watched Vancouver a couple of times this year," said Kreis. "I think it's a very, very good team, a very good team with some really good players. They're well-coached, they are very organized, they have some really exciting attacking players; I think it should be a very good game."