SANDY, Utah – Coaches and players generally don’t like to sensationalize games. It is rare to hear either one put too much emphasis on any one single game, but, that is exactly what Real Salt Lake are doing when it comes to Tuesday’s crucial CONCACAF Champions League clash at Panamanian champions Tauro (8 pm ET; Fox Soccer).
“I would definitely say it’s a must-win,” said midfielder Will Johnson. “On one hand, it’s going to be very difficult, but on the other hand, it is nice knowing what we have to do. We know what the results are, and that’s that.”
Added head coach Jason Kreis: “Another must-win situation if we want to continue on with a good chance of advancing. The writing is very clearly written on the wall that we got to go there and get all three points.”
Technically, it isn’t a must-win – RSL could still mathematically advance out of the group without the full three points, but that would require a long, long list of unlikely possibilities to come to fruition. With that in mind, they are going in with the mentality their backs are against the wall – and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
“I think so,” said Johnson of whether the team plays better in that position. “I think most teams do – you know exactly what you have to do there’s no, ‘Well, if they do this then…’
"I mean we have to win to give ourselves a chance to play for first place in the group in October. I think anything less than that and we would be very, very, very fortunate, so we know we have to win. It’s a must-win game, no doubt.”
Real have experienced playing in Panama before – the club also faced Árabe Unido during the 2010-11 CCL group stage, emerging 3-2 victors. But they may be in even better position for it this time, as the team left for Central America on Saturday hasn't played a game since Sept. 6.
“We didn’t have a huge break last time ,” said Kreis. “… It was jammed in there. I do think it can be a difficult place since it’s so humid there, so rainy. I’m glad we have some time to get the guys training this week for a full week and a half, and get down there a little bit early and get that long, long flight out of our legs.”
It may also help that Tauro should be playing a more attacking style of soccer compared to the first meeting when they bunkered in at Rio Tinto.
“It’s my feeling they are going to approach this game the way I would, which is they have to win,” said Kreis. “They’re not dead yet. They have to beat us and then beat Herediano and then hope for some things to go right between Herediano and us. I would expect that means an ultra, ultra-aggressive Tauro team come Tuesday night.”
One negative for the squad is that team captain Kyle Beckerman remained in Utah. The tenacious midfielder is serving an automatic suspension after being red-carded during the previous meeting between the two teams at Rio Tinto Stadium a 2-0 RSL win.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult,” said Kreis, on playing without his captain.
So with the cards laid out in front of them, RSL know what’s at stake.
“We want to win,” said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. "CONCACAF is very important to us and so we are going down there with no other thought than coming back with a win. We know what is at stake and know what they are about, and we have the mindset that nothing but the full three points will do."