(by James Edwards deseretnews.com 9-18-12)
Four thousand miles away in Panama, Real Salt Lake is preparing for what Ned Grabavoy said is the team's biggest match of the season.
Success in the CONCACAF Champions League is one of RSL's highest priorities each season, but escaping Panama with a victory over equally desperate Tauro FC this evening at 6 p.m. is an absolute must if RSL has any realistic hope of advancing out of group play.
At the midway point of group play, Real Salt Lake (1-1-0) sits three points behind Costa Rican club Herediano (2-0-0), and three points clear of Tauro (0-2-0). Only the group winner advances.
Unless RSL secures the full three points in Panama, Herediano can clinch first place in the group on Sept. 25 with a victory over Tauro FC — rendering its match with RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium in late October meaningless.
RSL is well rested after coming off a 12-day layoff, and coach Jason Kreis is confident the way his team is playing lately.
"I feel like we've been performing well for several weeks. I feel like we've gotten past our summer doldrums. I feel like the group is feeling pretty confident, positive about what they're doing," Kreis said.
"I also feel like our team performs at its best when they have their backs against the wall, and we clearly have our backs against the wall for this one."
Tauro's hopes are more bleak after opening CCL play with two losses, but a victory over Real Salt Lake keeps its slim hopes alive.
"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. 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," Kreis said.
In the previous meeting between these two teams at Rio Tinto Stadium, Tauro FC largely sat back and tried to counter-attack. Nothing came of it as Real Salt Lake prevailed 2-0. A similar approach is unlikely at Estadio Rommel Fernandez.
Kyle Beckerman is suspended for the match after picking up a red card late in the Tauro victory last month. He's missed four league games this season and Real Salt Lake is 2-2-0 without him, including its most recent 1-0 loss at Houston.
Game-time temperature will be in the upper 80s to lower 90s, with up to 80 percent humidity. RSL hasn't fared well historically in humid climates, but Kreis hopes that by traveling to Panama on Saturday and getting in a Sunday and Monday training session, his players will be better prepared to handle the conditions.
Familiarity could help RSL as well. Back in September 2010, it ground out a 3-2 victory in Panama over Arabe Unido in the same stadium it will play in tonight.
If Kreis' team can duplicate that success, the CCL Group 2 finale at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 25 between Real Salt Lake and Herediano will determine who advances to the Champions League quarterfinals next February.