In case anyone had any doubts as to how important Wednesday’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final is, Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey sums it up with pretty lofty terms:
It’s American soccer’s “Lake Placid Moment.”
Should RSL finish off Monterrey at Rio Tinto Stadium, they’ll become the first MLS side to win the Champions League title. And Lagerwey believes that’s an achievement that will denote perhaps the highest watermark in the history of the game in this country, one that all sports fans will remember.
One such moment was the 1980 Winter Olympics when the “Miracle on Ice” USA hockey team upset a hugely favored Soviet Union on their way to the gold medal, one of the most improbable feats in the history of American sports.
“That’s the opportunity that I think we have in front of us,” Lagerwey said on a media conference call on Monday. “I think we have an event on that scale to put the world on notice that American soccer is taking another step forward.”
Lagerwey went on the explain that if Real Salt Lake can build on their 2-2 aggregate away-goal advantage and close out Monterrey at home on Wednesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer), they will put to bed the notion that, even when they’re accomplishing extraordinary things, American teams can’t get past that final hurdle. That includes the US national team’s run to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, the final of the ’09 Confederations Cup and, most recently, the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup.
“The US World Cup team got some press, but no matter how you view how that finished, everybody thought we could have beaten Ghana,” Lagerwey said, “and everybody’s going to think the same thing – we could’ve beat Monterrey – if we don’t win this game.”
That’s a sentiment that the players of Real Salt Lake clearly share. While RSL are the first MLS team ever to advance to the finals of the CCL in this format – through six group-stage games and three knockout rounds – no one on the team is satisfied to simply advance this far.
The team knows it has a unique chance to permanently put its stamp on the game in America in much the same way the US national team has tried to do at international events.
“We understand what we’re playing for,” defender Nat Borchers said on the media conference call. “We understand that we’re not only representing Real Salt Lake and the city of Salt Lake and the state of Utah, but we’re representing the league and, at some level, obviously, American soccer."