LEHI, Utah – A grueling schedule and lack of depth are the reasons why MLS teams have only had moderate success in the CONCACAF Champions League. Real Salt Lake, however, feel like they have the depth needed to be successful in this tournament.
“Depth is the key,” said Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey. “You aren’t going to be able to put the first team out [on the pitch] in all of these games.”
Group stage play for the CONCACAF Champions League, which is typically held in late summer and early fall, happens to coincide with the stretch run of MLS league play. MLS opponents, on the other hand, not only have larger rosters and full-fledged developmental academies, but are also early in their seasons.
Therefore, it’s not a coincidence that a Mexican clubs have won in the past two Champions League tournaments, while only one MLS club was able to advance past the group stage in each edition.
Fortunately for RSL, they are showing early signs of having enough depth on their team to carry them a long way in the tournament.
Early in the season, the defending champs had two starting midfielders, Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy, out with injury. They had to call on rookie Collen Warner and youngster Nelson Gonzalez to fill the void, and both performed admirably.
And in Saturday’s matchup at Chivas USA, they had additional adversity to face.RSL were missing Robbie Findley, away with the National Team, and fellow forward Fabian Espindola, who came on in the second half to score the winner, was just returning from an injury.
In addition, Kyle Beckerman went down early in the first half with an ankle sprain and RSL had to rely on seldom-used youngster Jean Alexandre to fill in at holding midfielder.
Being able to rely on more than just the starting XI is essential for RSL, especially with the team’s lofty goals for the season.
“We want to compete in Open Cup, we want to compete in the Champions League, we want to compete for the Supporters' Shield and we want to win the MLS Championship,” said Lagerwey. “It’s a constant juggling act to try to accomplish all four of those goals, [but] I think it would help us attract good players.”
Real Salt Lake learned a portion of their CONCACAF Champions League fate last week when they were slotted into Group A for the tournament.
Only one opponent, Árabe Unido (Panama), is known at this point. The other two opponents will be determined through the qualifying process as either Toronto FC or Vancouver Whitecaps will face off against Motagua (Honduras), and Cruz Azul (Mexico) will take on San Francisco (Panama) for the right to join the group.