(by James Edwards deseretnews.com 6-5-12)
Real Salt Lake has been paired with Costa Rica champion Herediano and Panama's Tauro FC for group play of the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League.
The random draw was held at the CONCACAF offices in New York City on Tuesday morning.
RSL will play both teams twice, home and away. The specific dates will be released within a few weeks, but CCL play begins July 31 and continues through Oct. 26. The quarterfinals begin on March 15, 2013.
According to Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey, there are pros and cons to the draw.
He views the pros as the location of the road matches. In Champions League group play two years ago RSL played road games in Panama and Costa Rica, and Lagerwey believes that familiarity will help this time around. He believes the cons are the quality of the opposition.
"In terms of the competition level, those teams are both quite good, so in that sense it will be quite difficult," said Lagerwey.
The format of the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League has been tweaked slightly, even though 24 teams from the region still qualify as in years past.
Instead of initially having 16 teams paired up in a mini home-and-away knockout round, which then led to four groups of four teams, this year all 24 teams qualify for group play and will be divided into eight groups of three.
This means two less group games for those participating, but also means the only way to advance to the quarterfinals is to win your group.
"Your margin for error is greatly reduced, you really have to try and win all four games," said Lagerwey. "You're going to have to be very, very good to advance."
Two years ago, Real Salt Lake was paired in a group with Cruz Azul (Mexico), Arabe Unido (Panama) and Toronto FC (MLS), and it became the first MLS team to ever win its group. It ended up advancing to the Champions League final only to lose 3-2 on aggregate to Monterrey (Mexico)
After failing to qualify for the 2011-2012 Champions League, Lagerwey said the whole organization is excited for another chance to try and win the North American club championship.
"It's one of the primary reasons we kept our team together to try and make one more run to try and win the tournament," said Lagerwey.
Fourteen games into the 2012 MLS season, Real Salt Lake owns the best record in the league at 9-3-2. It's in the midst of a two-week break from league play because of World Cup qualifying, and doesn't return to action until June 16.
Welcome to the RSL Cup blog
I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.