There are 18 teams in Major League Soccer. And tonight they'll all be cheering for Real Salt Lake.
That's the sentiment throughout the soccer blogosphere Tuesday, as RSL prepares for the second leg of its semifinal matchup against Deportivo Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions League.
"Today I woke up a Real Salt Lake fan," former MLS striker Taylor Twellman posted on his Twitter on Tuesday. "Today they will represent all of us MLS contingent and move onto the CCL final."
New York's Dwayne DeRosario echoed that sentiment. "Wishing Real Salt Lake all the best in their decisive second-leg showdown against Deportivo Saprissa," he Tweeted on Tuesday.
Even the supporters of other MLS teams are setting their rivalries aside for tonight's match in Costa Rica. "I feel the league is really behind us on this," RSL coach Jason Kreis told the New York Times. "Not just the league, but opposing players who have wished us luck after games, even opposing fans. In San Jose [California] last week, Earthquakes fans all wished us well as we were jogging around the field."
The reason for this outpouring of camaraderie? An MLS team has never made it this far in the Champions League competition. A win tonight — and a finals victory against one of two possible Mexican foes, Cruz Azul or Monterrey — would send RSL to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup, where they could face soccer giants like Barcelona and Manchester United. The resulting exposure could be huge.
The Saprissa supporters, however, will try their best to make life miserable for RSL. Play-by-play broadcaster Bill Riley is on the scene in Costa Rica and wrote, "The RSL locker room (if it can be called that, more like a large open men's room) tonight night will be right below the most vocal and fanatic supporters, who will jump and scream for the hour before the match making it impossible to hear inside the locker room. Then once they enter the field of play, RSL players can expect to be showered with insults, slurs, and objects from the stands."
The stadium, known as the "Monster's Cave," is very familiar to one RSL player — Costa Rica native Alvaro Saborio. The RSL striker played for Saprissa for several years and still has a great respect for them.
"I've told [my RSL teammates] that the fans are very involved in the game," Saborio told MLSsoccer.com. "We have to be careful, but at the same time, it's 11 vs. 11."
As for the match itself, Real leads the two-game series by a score of 2-0. The rules of this competition give greater value to goals scored on the road, so if RSL can get an early tally, it might spell doom for Saprissa. Fan blog RSL Soapbox breaks down the scoring scenarios here.
Because of their lead, some might expect RSL to play a defensive game. But that's never been Kreis' style.6 comments on this story
"Kreis made it clear that RSL would not be coming to San Jose to defend for 90 minutes," columnist Ives Galarcep wrote Tuesday, "and the reality is that Deportivo Saprissa has been struggling offensively in recent weeks and could be forced to commit extra numbers into the attack. That could play right into an RSL side with the weapons to punish any Saprissa sloppiness."
Whatever the outcome, RSL has the hope of a soccer nation on its side. In such a hostile environment, they'll need it.
The latest in a series of behind-the-scenes videos following RSL's path through the Champions League is embedded below.