MONTERREY, Mexico — I've said before in this space that I am a very, very lucky guy. I truly believe that I have the best job in the Utah broadcast business. I get to talk to sports fans every day on the radio, I am the Voice of the University of Utah and, since its inception, I have been fortunate to call all of Real Salt Lake's matches on both radio and television.
In 2005, Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts gave me the opportunity to be part of his broadcast team. I jumped at the chance when offered. The first few seasons offered very little in the way of calling wins, but things began to turn around in 2008.
Then in 2009, the years of calling loss after loss began to pay off with a playoff run that led to a trip to the MLS Cup and ultimately a league title for Real Salt Lake and my first-ever championship call. I didn't think it could get much better for me on the professional soccer level until now.
That's because I am currently with RSL in Monterrey, Mexico, as the team sits one round and two matches away from reaching club soccer's highest level, the World Club Championships, which will be played later this year in Japan.
Jason Kreis' squad has already reached unprecedented heights for an American soccer club, as no MLS team has ever reached the CONCACAF finals under the current format. But RSL now sits just one round away from joining the world's elite at the FIFA Club World Cup. Kreis is quick to deflect any credit that is given to him for the club's success, but I can tell you that having been around this club for every match since the beginning, that Kreis deserves a lion's share of the credit.
Jason Kreis changed the culture of this club from the day that he took over for John Ellinger on May 3, 2007. Kreis, along with general manager Garth Lagerwey, have put together a team that is talented and takes on the persona of its head coach — no nonsense, steady and hard working.
For a club that struggled mightily to find any supporters in the media and soccer communities outside of Salt Lake City for years, now the praise and accolades are raining down on Kreis and his team from all corners of the American soccer community.
That brings us to tonight here in Monterrey and the matchup with the Mexican champions of the last two seasons, Los Rayados. While they don't carry quite the same cachet here south of the borders as say Club America or Chivas Guadalajara, Monterrey simply goes out and wins, very much the way Real Salt Lake doesn't get the attention or headlines of an L.A. Galaxy or New York Red Bulls.
The Rayados are led by Chilean goal scorer Humberto Suazo, who has scored 64 goals in his nearly four seasons with Monterrey. He combines in the attack with Monterrey's own Jesus Aldo de Nigris, who has 12 goals (four in CONCACAF play over the last season).
This will be the most talented team that RSL has ever faced in a real competition and perhaps the most hostile atmosphere. Estadio Tecnologico is Mexico's second-oldest stadium and should be filled to capacity of almost 33,000.
There was a time when I would prepare for an RSL broadcast thinking there was no way they were going to win. But since Kreis and Lagerwey have put their stamp on this franchise, I go into every match thinking there is no way they are going to lose. That is the feeling I have going into tonight's match. I like RSL's business-like approach and quiet confidence. I expect a result tonight here in Monterrey, perhaps a first-ever win for an American side on Mexican soil and a full house next Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium with even more history to be made.
I will talk to you tonight on the ESPN 700 at 8, with my partner Brian Dunseth joining me on the call from Estadio Tecnologico here in Monterrey.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.