Real Salt Lake balancing confidence, calm after key draw

Published: Thursday, April 21 2011 2:00 p.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake achieved one of the most significant results in American professional soccer history on Wednesday night, a 2-2 draw against Mexican champions Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League finals. But you wouldn't know it by the team's reaction.

"Dream result for RSL," Deseret News writer James Edward tweeted from Mexico. "They all seemed satisfied afterward, but they said there's still unfinished business."

That fits with RSL's team philosophy; they always know there's more work to do. Specifically, there's another game to play -- the second half of this two-match series is still to come on April 27 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.

"(The draw) is very good, but it means nothing because we have to go home and try to win," RSL midfielder Javier Morales said after the match. "We'll see now what happens back in Salt Lake. I think it's going to be a different game."

That seems to be the approach the whole team is taking.

"RSL players had a very calm demeanor about themselves this morning at hotel," Edward tweeted this morning. "Nobody seemed too giddy, just ready for the next challenge."

The team's performance on Wednesday night will make that challenge much easier, though. Because this tournament uses goals scored on the road as the first tiebreaker, RSL's two tallies in Monterrey tip the scales in their favor.

Couple that with the imposing home record at Rio Tinto Stadium, and things are definitely looking up.

"The 2-2 draw means that Monterrey will have to win or score at least two goals and get a result to survive in next Wednesday's return leg in Utah," wrote Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl. "And keep in mind: Salt Lake's home unbeaten run stands at 34 games in all competitions, possibly the longest streak in the world."

On the other hand, Monterrey clearly isn't intimidated by the task ahead of them.

"We know exactly what (RSL's) movements are and what their characteristics are," Monterrey coach Victor Manuel Vucetich told MLSsoccer.com. "With the way we played today, we're confident of getting a good result over there (at Rio Tinto)."

Vucetich's comments indicated that he felt his team suffered because of its own mistakes.

"We committed errors that cost us goals," he said. "Really, they didn't have any chances except for one from (RSL striker Alvaro) Saborio that (Monterrey goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco) saved. But aside from this, the opportunities were few. They played the game they wanted. They dirtied the game a lot. But that's normal."

Vucetich is facing some criticism himself, however, after a pair of curious substitutions early in Wednesday's match. Soon after scoring Monterrey's first goal, striker Aldo de Nigris was replaced, along with midfielder and captain Luis Perez. The moves seemed to indicate that maybe Monterrey felt the game was all but over and one goal was all they would need.

"Both players appeared to have aggravated hamstring injuries," wrote ESPN soccer writer Jeff Carlisle, "but the sight of them exiting so soon after de Nigris' goal gave the impression that Vucetich had been infected with El Tri Disease, aka the kind of overconfidence usually reserved for Mexico's national team when facing the U.S."

Vucetich insisted the substitutions were due to injury and had nothing to do with tactics. Still, the decision could be fuel for RSL's fire. Not that they need any.

"This is the stuff that dreams are made of, the opportunity to raise this kind of trophy and be the best team in the region," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. "It would be simply fantastic and amazing to raise the trophy in front of our home crowd."

Click here to view the latest in the series of behind-the-scenes videos documenting RSL's journey through the CONCACAF Champions League.

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