Real Salt Lake are built for CONCACAF Champions League play, at least that’s the conventional wisdom considering a regional title, which barely eluded the club in 2011, is the publicly stated target for Jason Kreis’ side.
But a loss at Herediano in the club’s opening group match set RSL back considerably, and with only two more opportunities after Tuesday night to make up ground, survival essentially comes down to one game. Ninety minutes separate RSL from what would almost certainly be a premature CCL exit tonight at Rio Tinto Stadium against Panamanian side Tauro FC (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer), a scenario that puts the pressure squarely on Kreis and his squad since a loss or even a draw would likely be impossible to recover from.
"This is the first time the guys will clearly have their backs against the wall,” Kreis said. “ ... If we lose or draw, odds are we’ll be done with this tournament. So, there’s only one result that is acceptable."
That, of course, is a win, a task which will be made all the more difficult by the fact that RSL have no game tape with which to scout Tauro. While Kreis and his staff rely on their own scouting reports to prepare for Tuesday’s crucial tie, Fox Soccer's Kyle McCarthy gives his evaluation of the Panamanian side as well as Houston and LA’s CCL opponents this week.
Even more daunting for RSL is the fact that they are a disappointing 3-8-1 over their past 12 matches, including a home loss to FC Dallas at the weekend, and haven’t managed to rediscover the home form that helped transform them into one of MLS' elite sides. Without that home dominance to rely on Tuesday night, there is little room for error from an RSL side currently fading in MLS play and clinging to the promise of a late run on two fronts.
"It’s really all or nothing right now with the Champions League," defender Nat Borchers said. "We’ve got to come out strong against the Panamanian team."
Houston travel to El Salvador to take on FAS on Wednesday night (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer), a match sure to test the Dynamo’s depth, while the Galaxy follow that up with a home date with Isidro Metapan on Thursday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
And while CCL play comes to the forefront this week, there are still plenty of MLS matches during Week 25 to keep an eye on, including a crucial Eastern Conference matchup between D.C. United and the Fire on Wednesday. After seemingly establishing themselves among the league's elite, United are slipping while the Fire steadily climb the table. Here's what one columnist says Ben Olsen's side must do to seal a playoff berth.
Colorado are likely out of the running for one of five playoff spots in the West, but they appear close to adding EPL veteran Hendry Thomas to their squad.
In Portland, meanwhile, a playoff appearance is almost entirely out of the equation. That doesn't mean Merritt Paulson is withdrawing his support of interim manager Gavin Wilkinson, though.
"Gavin is not going anywhere," Paulson said Monday, following a weekend that featured a blown 2-0 lead on the road and a passionate Twitter exchange between the Timbers' owner and fans. "More big changes is not what this team needs right now."
What the Montreal Impact need is more games to make up ground. The Impact won their fourth straight match at home against San Jose on Saturday, and the club's recent run of form has hometown journalists feeling as if there is more to come from Jesse Marsch's side.
Speaking of the Impact, one columnist breaks down Marco Di Vaio's evaluation of MLS and says it all comes down to personal preference.
The crucial play in Montreal's 3-1 win vs. San Jose was the dust up between Hassoun Camara and Steven Lenhart that led to ejections for both players. It's safe to say that Lenhart has been quite the lightning rod lately.
So has Clint Dempsey, who didn't play for Fulham vs. Norwich at the weekend as he attempts to force a move away from the London club.
One columnist says the PFA should force Dempsey to honor his contract and play for the Lily Whites, while Fulham manager Martin Jol says the transfer window should close before the season begins.
Liverpool is still the destination most often mooted for Dempsey, but rumors of a Sunderland swoop are starting to circulate. If Deuce does end up at Liverpool, former USMNT and Fulham forward Brian McBride has tipped him for success.
"If you’re asking me if I think Clint can succeed [at Liverpool]? For sure," McBride said. "He’s got not only the talent and the ability but he’s a very determined individual. He adapts extremely well to so many different situations."
Maurice Edu is currently searching for a destination outside of Scotland. The most recent possibility is Ipswich in the English Championship.
Edu's former Rangers teammate Alejandro Bedoya will be in action with Helsingborgs tonight against Celtic, and Neil Lennon thinks the American will have extra motivation against his former Old Firm rivals.
Check out the TV ratings from last week's US-Mexico match at Azteca.
Meanwhile, the US women are getting into the publishing game. Hope Solo discussed her new book on SportsCenter on Monday, and Alex Morgan has a deal to write a few books of her own.
Get the Kick-Off delivered to you!
Enter your email address and favorite team below to sign up for The Kick-Off mailing list and get it delivered to your inbox every morning.