MONTERREY, Mexico — When the CONCACAF Champions League released the pairings and dates for the knockout stages months and months ago, one thing immediately jumped out to all the Real Salt Lake players: If they took care of business in the quarters and semis, the second leg of the championship would be played at Rio Tinto Stadium.
It represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hoist a trophy — and not just any trophy, either. It would be a trophy signifying RSL as the best club in North America — in front of its home fans.
It's a dream scenario for any player, one RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said he's caught himself daydreaming about on numerous occasions the past few months.
Unfortunately for Beckerman, he picked up his second yellow card of the knockout stages in the second half at Monterrey on Wednesday, resulting in an automatic one-game suspension.
A couple hours after Wednesday's match in the hotel lobby, the reality of the situation still hadn't subsided.
"I'm really gutted from it," said Beckerman. "I've been dreaming about raising a trophy in our stadium. Who knows if we'll ever get another home game to win a championship at our place."
Considering the awful track record by MLS teams in the competition, it's unlikely.
Even if RSL wins the trophy next Wednesday, it already knows it won't be participating in the 2011-2012 competition. Those four tournament berths for MLS belong to Colorado (MLS Cup), Dallas (MLS Cup runner-up), Los Angeles (Supporters Shield) and Seattle (U.S. Open Cup).
To qualify for the 2012-2013 competition, RSL must claim one of those four slots this season.
What makes Wednesday's yellow card so difficult for Beckerman to swallow is he doesn't think he deserves it.
"CONCACAF refing and Mexican tricks," he said. "The guy just went down like he got shot. Instead of just playing hard and playing like a man, he didn't do that. So I had to pay the price for it."
RSL coach Jason Kreis insists Beckerman's challenge on Jesus Eduardo Zavala wasn't even a foul. Ironically enough, Zavala picked up a yellow card later in the match for grabbing Alvaro Saborio's neck, which forces Zavala to miss next Wednesday's title-clinching match as well.
"That's a travesty to be completely honest. That, for me, was a fair tackle, it wasn't even a foul," said Kreis.
After the match, Beckerman got some words of encouragement from Javier Morales, who could sympathize with his friend's situation. In the 2009 MLS Cup final, Morales was forced to leave with an ankle injury in the opening 20 minutes.
It was a devastating blow for Morales, whose face was buried in his hands as he walked off the field. But a few hours later on the podium, when Real Salt Lake celebrated the championship, Morales was right there with his teammates.
"Javy said he owes me one for in the past," said Beckerman. "I said, 'Whatever, you don't owe me anything, but I'll take it.' "
Beckerman isn't worried about RSL's ability to win without him this Wednesday, saying there's enough experience and depth to get the job done. He's just crushed he won't be part of the festivities.
email: [email protected]