SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake are set to face Costa Rican champions CS Herediano in a CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer) in what is not only their most crucial so far in 2012, but will have implications for the future of the current roster as well.
"It’s the biggest match we’ve had all year, definitely in terms of moving forward with Champions League, in terms of relief from the salary cap and in terms of pride," defender Nat Borchers said, referencing the allocation money awarded to clubs for advancing to the CCL quarterfinals. "We always want to move forward in this competition, we’ve done well in it before."
RSL Insider: Kreis and Beckerman discuss CCL
Real trail Herediano by three points in the standings. Under the new format, only one team in each three-team group advances, and the way the tiebreakers set up, RSL must beat Herediano either 1-0 or by a two-goal margin to get out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds next year.
"I think it’s a very good team," head coach Jason Kreis said. "I think it’s a very well-coached team, disciplined team. For me, it will be one of the best teams we’ve faced all season."
But the task is certainly going to be harder with leading goalscorer Álvaro Saborío unavailable because of a suspension from yellow-card accumulation.
"It concerns us a little, of course," Kreis said. "He’s scored so many important goals for us."
It may be even harder with the availability of forward Fabián Espíndola and defender Jámison Olave still questionable.
"Fabián [is] 50-50.," Kreis said. "[They] came back from Seattle very sore in several different places on their body. [With Olave] same thing, 50-50."
The match would obviously be much tougher without three regular starters out of the lineup. Espíndola is more likely to play than Olave, who suffered a hamstring strain against Seattle last Wednesday.
There could be good news for Real, however, as Ned Grabavoy could make his return to the lineup after missing the past three games with a quadriceps strain.
Regardless of the personnel on the pitch, RSL's players and coaches know what's in store and what the stakes are.
"It’s been a game that’s been circled on our calendar," midfielder Will Johnson said. "One of our major goals at the beginning of this year was to get out of this group and we’ve got an opportunity to do that in front of our fanbase at home.
"I don’t know that you could ask for much more. We want to win because we’re competitors. We have a great group of guys here and we want to keep going in this competition for our fans."
Michael Black covers Real Salt Lake for MLSsoccer.com.