SANDY — Real Salt Lake has two voids to fill in the second leg of its CONCACAF Champions League series against Columbus on Tuesday.
One is just a straight swap, Robbie Russell for Tony Beltran. Nobody's really worried about that.
The other is a much bigger concern. Nat Borchers is the vocal leader of RSL's back line, but he's suspended along with Beltran because of last week's red card.
"It's going to be way different. He's someone we depend on at the back and someone who kind of keeps us together," said keeper Nick Rimando. "He's the vocals for sure between that line, so I'm going to have to step up vocally more and whoever steps into that role definitely has to step up and be vocal."
Either Rauwshan McKenzie or Chris Schuler will get the starting nod in the second leg of the CCL series this Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Odds are good it will be McKenzie. Schuler is coming off a broken foot last season, and he missed the first few weeks of the preseason while finishing up rehab. Even though Kreis deemed him 100 percent, it's unlikely the second-year player will be thrown into such an important match.
"Whoever that may be, whether that's McKenzie or Schuler, they have to have confidence first, and they have to know they can go in there and play," said Rimando. "It's an important game, so we want them to have confidence. We're a team here and we stick behind everybody."
McKenzie started six total games last year, two each in MLS play, the Champions League and the U.S. Open Cup. Schuler, meanwhile, started just one game in all three competitions.
Whoever is out there, Russell said they have big shoes to fill trying to replace Borchers.
"It takes a lot on them because they need to kind of fill a role, and if that role is organizing or stepping up and being vocal, that's what they have to do," he said. "If that's not necessary their character or strength, they need to work on it."
Russell said he's seen moments when McKenzie or Schuler have filled that role, but will they in Tuesday's pressure-packed situation with the CCL semifinal berth on the line?
SNOWY CONDITIONS: The team went ahead with its training session at Xango Field on Saturday despite Friday night's snowstorm. Considering it might face similar conditions at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday, there was no reason to move the practice indoors.
"The field we trained on today was soft. The guys cleared it off for us quite well and it was nice and soft," he said.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman said it wasn't that great, though, with ridges all over the place after the field was plowed Saturday morning.
Either way, the conditions should prepare Real Salt Lake for whatever it faces on Tuesday. Kreis believes it will be better than Crew Stadium.
"I hope that we're a little more mindful if it's gonna snow, we cover it so it's not icy. We also have underground heating on our field so that should keep the ice off," he said. "For me that was the biggest problem with Columbus' field, there was all this ice all over it."
The icy conditions limited RSL's potential possession game.
CORRALLED WEAPONS: Kreis went into last Tuesday's game in Columbus fully expecting to play both newcomer Arturo Alvarez and second-year player Paulo Junior. He was forced to change his entire substitution patterns though after a flurry of red cards.
"Tactically in my mind, probably both of those guys would've been inserted in that match, and hopefully we can consider some different situations (Tuesday). But when we're down a man for 37 minutes, at that point we're thinking how do we get of here with a draw," he said.
Both could be in the mix to start against the Crew.
ENCOURAGING FORMAT: Around the world in cup competitions, the first tiebreaker in a head-to-head series is always away goals. That's not the case in the MLS Playoffs though.
Kreis said he's pleased that the Champions League is in line with other leagues and not MLS.
"I think it's there for the right reason, to encourage a team to come out and attack when they play away and not just sit back in a shell and not just defend for the 90 minutes," said Kreis.
After last week's 0-0 draw, RSL needs a win to advance or a 0-0 draw followed by a successful shootout. Any tie score higher than nil-nil and Columbus advances to the semifinals on the away goals rule.
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