SANDY — Real Salt Lake has a tough task ahead of it when it faces the Vancouver Whitecaps tonight at 7 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Not only does RSL (12-7-3, 39 points) need to be wary of a very good Vancouver squad (9-6-7, 34 points), which is in third place in the Western Conference behind second-place Salt Lake, but the team must try to pry the distraction of the looming CONCACAF Champions League game — the competition kicks off Tuesday with Real visiting Costa Rican champion Herediano — from its mind.
"Of course we're aware of it," said defender Tony Beltran of the CONCACAF game. "But the fact is, we got to get the work done Friday. It is a really important game league-wise. Vancouver is in third place (in the Western Conference) and we don't want to give up points here at this crucial time in the season. ... We just want to focus on this next game and once it's done, once it's buried, then we can turn our attention to Costa Rica."
Vancouver should have Real's full attention. The Whitecaps are coming off a 2-1 home win over league-leading San Jose. It was the team's second win over the 'Quakes, which is especially noteworthy when considering RSL is 0-3 against the Supporter's Shield front-runners.
"I know they have a lot of attacking pieces and they have done well for their second year," said Beltran. "They have some dangerous players, some big, high-profile players they just brought in, so we will just have to be organized, be alert. We'll go over some video and figure out where we can take advantage of them and where we need to be cautious."
Beltran's thought of being cautious may be a little ironic when considering the way visiting teams have been approaching their games at Rio Tinto. Cautious may be too kind of a word as teams have seen some success bunkering in, getting 10 or 11 men behind that ball against RSL and looking for a counter-attack score. But with the aggressive nature of Vancouver — in the last month the team acquired speedy Jamaican Dane Richards and Scottish National Team captain Kenny Miller, both offensive minded players — the team hopes that won't be the case.
"It's interesting to see different teams come in here and be intimidated," said Beltran. "Obviously, it is a tough atmosphere to play in with the altitude, with our fans and with our home record, but I would like them to come out. It is the same as when we play on the road. We never want to go somewhere and sit back and score on a counter-attack and win 1-0. We want to play good soccer. We don't want to let where we're playing dictate the type of soccer we play, and I hope other teams do the same."
So even with the Champions League in the back of the coaches' and players' minds, keeping that at bay and going for the full three points at home is paramount.