This is it for Real Salt Lake. This is their opportunity to keep hold of at least a shred of their CONCACAF Champions League destiny.
On Tuesday night in Panama, they must win – a cliché, sure, but still accurate nonetheless.
In truth, Real Salt Lake won’t be in uncharted territory tonight when they face Tauro FC in Panama City (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer) in each club’s third and second-to-last CONCACAF Champions League group game. Jason Kreis’ side has been here before – both in CCL play and in MLS – and the general feeling, or maybe hope, is that the pressure and desperation packed into 90 minutes will actually work in their favor.
"I like when our backs are against the wall," defender Nat Borchers said. "We always respond well. … There’s no uncertainty. You know exactly what you have to do. You know exactly what result you have to get, and that just brings out the best in this team."
Of course, RSL will be without one of their best Tuesday night, as Kyle Beckerman sits due to the red card he received at Rio Tinto Stadium when these two teams met last – a situation Kreis called “very, very difficult.”
A clear positive, however, is Tauro’s tenuous position in the group, one that should force them out of the shell they stuck with in a 2-0 loss to RSL in late August. If the Panamanians lose, their campaign is over, while Real Salt Lake would be at the mercy of Herediano should they drop all three points or even draw.
"It's my feeling they are going to approach this game the way I would, which is they have to win. They're not dead yet,” Kreis said. “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.”
Three other MLS sides – Seattle, LA and Houston – will also continue their CCL campaigns this week, although the Sounders will travel to Honduras without Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert as well as recently signed goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. David Estrada will also stay back after recovering from a broken foot suffered in late May.
Back in Seattle after more than a decade in Europe, Hahnemann was essentially retired, as he told the guys on ExtraTime Radio. That was until Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer presented an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
"I think Marcus was starting to set himself up for a bit of a life of leisure," Hanauer said. "And we gave him a call and told him to hold off on the fishing and hunting at least a little longer."
"I thought it was something that had slipped through my fingers. It had all gone by the wayside and all of a sudden it was happening," Hahnemann said on Monday in his first interviews with Seattle media. "It didn't quite make sense."
It makes plenty of sense now, however, as Hahnemann joined training on Monday (see photo gallery) and took the time to detail his journey back to Seattle – the 40-year-old grew up in the city and played for the A-League Sounders from 1994-96. Hanauer also gave his account of the signing and explained why the club only managed to sign Hahnemann with a few other targets in camp, most notably Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Meanwhile, group-leaders LA travel to Puerto Rico on Wednesday to take on the Islanders (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer) and they could have another big gun back from injury to lead the line: Edson Buddle.
And while a select few cavort around the Caribbean in search of regional plaudits, the majority of MLS sides are preoccupied with their playoff fates. The same goes for the journalists covering them. Check out this breakdown of the race in the Eastern Conference, where things have gotten tight of late.
Sporting KC are on top in the East for now and eyeing the Supporters' Shield, and goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen says he's relishing the season's final months: “I don't think I've been this excited for many, many, many years. It feels new to me, with the playoff race, the playoff spots and everything.”
The Columbus Crew's playoff fate is a little more uncertain, but at least it appears Designated Player Federico Higuain will be back on Wednesday against Chivas (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online). Andy Gruenebaum should also be back between the pipes. The Crew starter took the time to empathize with backup Matt Lampson after Thierry Henry beat the young 'keeper with an olimpico goal on Saturday night.
On the other hand, there is still some concern in D.C. about the role playmaker Branko Boskovic will play the rest of the way. United need the skillful midfielder to pick up the slack for the injured Dwayne De Rosario, but fitness is once again an issue for the Montenegrin.
Farther north, the Montreal Impact aren't out of the playoff race just yet, but time is running out. Check out what Alessandro Nesta had to say about his first season so far in MLS, and all the hubbub surrounding his former club, AC Milan.
Nesta's teammate, Felipe, was named No. 5 on Monday in MLSsoccer.com's 24 Under 24 series, a countdown of the league's top young talents. He also revealed that he turned down European offers to come to MLS and hopes to someday make history with the Impact.
Speaking of budding young talents, check out Amobi Okugo's most recent blog post at Goal.com for some insight into the day-to-day life of an MLS player.
Life hasn't been too bright in Toronto for much of this season, at least when it comes to TFC, and Luke Wileman writes that fans are becoming impatient.
Same goes for Colorado, where the club picked up a young defender on loan that Eric Wynalda compared to Eddie Pope.
Finally, Robbie Findley looks set for a loan move away from Nottingham Forest, and Tim Howard may have some competition in goal for Everton after allowing what many called a "soft" goal on Monday against Newcastle.
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