Real Salt Lake's players depart for Costa Rica today, and you'll have to forgive them if they feel a bit like rock stars — or at least like NBA players.
MLS teams always fly commercially, but today the team will be charting a flight to Central America in preparation for its CONCACAF Champions League semifinal match with Saprissa on Tuesday.
The 2,700-mile trip will take a little over six hours with a refueling stop in El Paso, Texas.
It's much better than the alternative.
"The commercial situation was a disaster," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Now, the team will arrive comfortably this evening and should be well rested for its Monday practice on the artificial surface in Saprissa's stadium. Kreis said the training session will be light as the players "get the flight out of our legs."
The session will also help RSL figure out the nuances of playing on turf again. Most of RSL's starters played on the turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium at some point in their careers, but that was three years ago.
Regardless of how long it's been, though, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said playing on turf is all mental and he's not worried at all. His biggest concern is making sure everyone stays hydrated.
RSL has been training in desert climates since gathering for the preseason in late January. The weather in San Jose, Costa Rica, will be hot and humid, with isolated thunderstorms in the forecast.
If the players aren't hydrated, cramping could be a big issue.
In the 48 hours leading up to the match, Beckerman said he wants to "stay focused and imagine ourselves advancing and playing well."
With a 2-0 aggregate lead heading into the second leg, Real will need to maintain that focus in front of what figures to be a spirited crowd.
Midfielder Andy Williams said he even heard that the club was giving away 2-for-1 tickets to boost attendance.
"I think (we) can expect an atmosphere that's very similar to ours right now and our stadium. It's a group that gets there and really wills their team onto impressive results, and wills their team on to passionate emotional beginnings of matches," said Kreis.
Since its 2-0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 16, Saprissa has been playing particularly well outscoring its opponents 6-2 in posting a 2-0-1 record.
RSL, meanwhile, is coming off a 4-1 thrashing of Los Angeles last weekend, and the team hopes to build on that momentum. The players know everyone will be watching, too.
"We definitely have felt support from around the league and the country," said RSL defender Chris Wingert. "Representing the MLS and the rest of the country is a big deal, but I don't know if it's pressure beyond what we're putting on ourselves."
RSL on the air
Real Salt Lake at Deportivo Saprissa
Tuesday, 8 p.m. MDT
San Jose, Costa Rica
TV: Fox Soccer Channel Radio: 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
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