SANDY — Real Salt Lake ended last season with its record-setting 33-game home unbeaten streak intact. It didn't really feel that way though.
RSL needed a win at home against FC Dallas in the playoffs last November to advance to the Western Conference final, but instead settled for a draw and was eliminated.
Four months later Real Salt Lake is in a similar position.
It hosts Columbus in the second leg of its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series tonight at 8 p.m. needing a victory to become the first MLS team in history to advance to the CCL semifinals. It could also advance with a 0-0 draw and then a successful shootout, but any other tie sends the Crew through on the away goals tiebreaker.
As expected, Real Salt Lake is confident it can get the result it needs at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"We're comfortable here, we play well here. I think that's known, " said Nick Rimando. "Going into that game we need that boost because we need a victory to advance."
Like the Dallas playoff game it can't afford to give up the first goal, otherwise it will be playing catch up against a Crew team content to bunker in defensively.
Neither team played particularly well on the frozen field at Crew Stadium last week, but RSL insists it was more worried about protecting the zero than scoring goals. Duplicating the shutout won't be easy. Defenders Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran are each suspended after picking up red cards last week, and Robbie Russell and Rauwshan McKenzie are expected to start in their place.
"We're going to have to have guys step up. We showed last year we're a deep team and we're able to get results when guys were out, so hopefully we can continue on that and not miss a beat," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Communication could be the biggest issue. Borchers is the vocal leader of the back line, and without him McKenzie will be asked to take on a much larger role. There's no telling how he'll handle that responsibility after playing in just six of RSL's 40 games in 2010.
"We've had some matches where we haven't played with Nat and we've been successful as well. I think we're quite capable of it, but I think it just means everyone will have to do a little bit more especially in the communication part," said Kreis.
Returning to Rio Tinto Stadium should help put everyone at ease.
"I've made no bones about my feelings that our crowd has spurred us on to a lot of really good results here, and have played a big, big role in our record at home. We'll hope for the same thing on Tuesday," said Kreis.
The winner advances to face the winner of the Saprissa (Costa Rica) vs. Olimpia (Honduras) quarterfinal series. Saprissa won the first game 1-0, and the second game is Wednesday.
"We're really excited. This is a big opportunity for us. Moving onto the semifinals would get us a step closer to possible winning the region," said Russell.
RSL on the air
Columbus Crew at Real Salt Lake
Tonight, 8 p.m.
Rio Tinto Stadium
TV: Fox Soccer
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