SANDY — Losing North America's soccer equivalent to the Super Bowl is tough enough.
Being asked to play a meaningful match three days later just doesn't seem fair, but that's the reality facing Real Salt Lake this Saturday in Portland.
Picking up the pieces from Wednesday's heartbreaking loss to Monterrey and missing out on a chance to make MLS history might prove to be more difficult than beating Monterrey.
"It's going to be tough. Everybody in the locker room is pretty hurt right now. It's going to take a lot for us to get back," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, who was forced to watch Wednesday's loss from the luxury suites because of a yellow-card suspension.
Normally when a team comes up short in a championship match, the season's over. The players have several months to digest the disappointment and then recharge mentally and physically for the next season.
For Real Salt Lake, it's already in the midst of the next season. Because the CONCACAF Champions League spans two MLS seasons, American teams are forced to play group games during the home stretch of one season and then knockout games in the early portions of the next.
As a result, there's no time for Real Salt Lake to mope about the loss.
"I think it's important that we move on very quickly. We've got a game on Saturday, big MLS match at Portland," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "This is a huge challenge in front of us again, another challenge to see how the guys respond, because it won't be easy. It will not be easy to pick up and move on, we'll see now what kind of group we are."
RSL had been the toast of MLS for the past two months during its Champions League run, and RSL defender Chris Wingert said that will make it all the more difficult to refocus quickly.
"I feel pretty disappointed that we let everyone down, including ourselves. It stinks when everybody's rooting for you and behind you and we didn't come away with the win," he said. "Pretty bummed about that on a league level. But our league is good, anybody that plays in the league knows that and guys from other leagues will tell you that."
Despite the disappointment, Real Salt Lake has plenty to play for. Though it's early in the 2011 season, RSL has already established itself as the team to beat with a 4-0 record and a plus-seven goal differential. Its 18-game league unbeaten streak is one shy of equaling the league record owned by both Dallas and Columbus.
Beckerman and a lineup of mostly reserves will hope to extend that streak to 19.
Strangely enough, the quick turnaround might be a positive if Saturday's starters can forget about Monterrey for 90 minutes.
"Maybe it's a good thing to get back on the field, and — not that we're going to forget about it — but try to move on and get back to competing again," said Wingert.
A win or a tie at Portland, an expansion team that's had two great victories at home already, would be a great reminder that there's still plenty to play for with most of the 34-game season still upcoming.
"It's been an amazing ride, journey through the whole tournament; it's been a lot of fun. I think we've learned a ton from it. We've grown a lot as a team, and maybe even losing this we're going to learn something from this tonight. And we're just going to get better," said Beckerman.
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