Real Salt Lake CONCACAF Champions League Preview

LEG 1 - Feb 24: Tigres vs Real Salt Lake

LEG 2 - Mar 2: Real Salt Lake vs Tigres

After seven straight seasons in the MLS Cup Playoffs and five straight seasons of 50+ points, Real Salt Lake fell far short of both those goals in 2015. It was the second season of Jeff Cassar’s tenure as head coach, but the first season that the team moved away from their standard 4-4-2 diamond formation. The team struggled with the new look, with team captain Kyle Beckerman voicing his discontent about some of the changes, and they managed to collect just 41 points, missing out on the playoffs by 10 points.

To remedy these issues RSL will be relying upon the return of a striker that helped them bring home the 2009 MLS Cup. Yura Movsisyan was brought back to the club over the offseason, after the Armenian international had spent the past six years in Europe. Movsisyan scored eight goals in his final season with RSL in 2009 and only continued to improve during his time with Randers, Krasnodar and Spartak Moscow.

Javier Morales will also be relied upon to continue producing at a high level despite his age, and more will be expected from Joao Plata, who had a down 2015 season after suffering an injury during the preseason.

The club famously made a run to the finals of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, where they faced off against Liga MX club Monterrey. They managed to get a 2-2 draw on the road but faltered at home, losing 1-0. They will be looking to avenge that loss when they face off against Monterrey's bitter local rivals, Tigres UANL.

3 Stars

  • Kyle Beckerman – The RSL legend is entering his 10th season with the club and will be looking to have a bounceback year after suffering his first losing season since 2007. Beckerman chose not to participate in January camp for the US national team so he should be well rested when RSL hit the field in Monterrey on February 24.
  • Juan Manuel Martinez – “Burrito” came in towards the end of the 2015 season and immediately showed that he’s a perfect fit for RSL’s re-configured formation. His speed and technical ability on the left wing constantly put opposing right backs under pressure. He should be looked on to improve his goalscoring rate, though, as he scored just one goal in eight games.
  • Yura Movsisyan – The 28-year-old wasn’t around the last time that RSL made their run in the 2010-11 Champions League but he will be crucial this time around. He has had some injury issues over the past couple seasons but his talent is undeniable, as he scored 16 goals for Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League during the 2013-14 season.

Tactical Look

So far, Cassar’s experimentation with the 4-3-3 has not been a success. But some would say that they didn’t have the correct players to fit into those spots. The additions of Burrito and Movsisyan should help RSL become more cohesive as a team but Movsisyan’s will need to demonstrate his abilities as a hold-up forward.

The other issue is Beckerman and Morales’ ability to cover enough ground in a three-man midfield. Beckerman had a tough time in 2015, as he was tasked to do more running with fewer players around him. The addition of SuperDraft pick Omar Holness could prove to be the right addition next to the two RSL legends, but we are more likely to see Luke Mulholland in that spot.

Starting XI

  • GK: Nick Rimando
  • RB: Tony Beltran
  • CB: Aaron Maund
  • CB: Jamison Olave
  • LB: Demar Phillips
  • DM: Kyle Beckerman
  • CM: Luke Mulholland
  • AM: Javier Morales
  • RF: Joao Plata
  • CF: Yura Movsisyan
  • LF: Juan Manuel Martinez

CCL History

RSL defeated Columbus Crew SC and Saprissa on their way to the 2010-11 CCL finals. In their other Champions League run they had less success.

2010-11 Finals
2012-13 Group Stage

Projection

In their second season in a new system, Real Salt Lake should improve upon their 2015 form. Their front three could be among the most prolific in MLS and Morales seems to be an ageless wonder. There are definitely some question marks along the backline, which will most likely spell trouble against the juggernaut that is Tigres. Containing French international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac and Rafael Sobis is a tough ask for Aaron Maund and Jamison Olave. Tigres can also threaten on the wings with El Tri midfielders Javier Aquino and Jurgen Damm, while their back four have been together for years. Barring Tigres resting their players, RSL are extremely unlikely to see the semifinals.