SANDY — At fortress Rio Tinto, where the home team hasn't lost since May of 2009, visiting teams are often overmatched. As a result, they usually come out in a very defensive posture and hope for counter-attacking opportunities.
Several teams have been successful with the tactic, as 10 of 34 have walked out of Rio Tinto Stadium with a draw during Real Salt Lake's current 34-match home unbeaten streak in all competitions.
When RSL hosts Costa Rican club Saprissa this Tuesday in the first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series, it can expect much of the same.
"They usually play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which lends itself to a lot of counter attacking," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "They're able to absorb pressure with the two center midfielders that sit in front of their back four, so it's going to be difficult for us to break them down."
One of those central midfielders is former RSL player Douglas Sequiera. His neck of the woods on the pitch is where the game will be won or lost, as both teams like to play a possession-oriented game by keeping the ball on the ground.
Saprissa likes to control the midfield by committing five players to the middle of the field. Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, usually controls the midfield thanks to the skill and tireless work rate of its midfielders.
"A big thing will come down to who sets the tempo of the match and who controls the tempo of the match in the midfield," said Kreis, who didn't hesitate to say that at home, it "should" be RSL.
It won't be easy by any means.
Saprissa's most advanced four players are very, very good according to Kreis, who can each cause problems for Real Salt Lake's back line. Josue Isaac Martinez and Jairo Arrieta are two dangerous strikers for the Costa Ricans, while midfielder Armando Alonso leads the team in scoring throughout the Champions League.
Midfielder Will Johnson believes Saprissa will play similarly to Arabe Unido, who RSL swept during CCL group play last fall — but with more skill. He's up for the challenge, as he always is against international competition.
"Anytime you play a team outside of your league, Mexico included, it presents some different challenges in the way they approach games," he said. "They like to do a lot more combinations and a lot more flicks. MLS is more of a physical league than Central American leagues. We play more of a Central American style though so it should be cool."
With Real Salt Lake so heavily focused on preparing for Saprissa the past two weeks, it's been easy for the players to forget the 2011 MLS regular season kicks off this Saturday at San Jose.
"We're just focused on Tuesday. We haven't even talked about Saturday yet," said Johnson.
For all involved, getting the season started so early has been a nice change of pace.
"Typically you get to this point of the preseason and you're itching so bad for a real meaningful game, and all this nervous energy and eagerness about the first game of the season, but we've kind of already had that," said Kreis.
RSL on the air
Real Salt Lake vs. Saprissa Deportivo
Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Rio Tinto Stadium
TV: Fox Soccer
e-mail: [email protected]