Real Salt Lake’s and CONCACAF Glory: #MLS4RSL Ain’t #REALBS

This infographic about Real Salt Lake’s road to the two-legged final of the CONCACAF Champions League is pretty damn awesome, and more than worth glancing at ahead of tomorrow’s second leg in Salt Lake, with the Americans tied 2-2 on aggregate with Monterrey of Mexico. It’s informative for the newbie, and interesting enough for the nerd.

Real Salt Lake, Concacaf Champions?

“Club World Champions?” isn’t exactly right around the corner, but Salt Lake’s run to the final of a tournament that does see the winners head to the FIFA Club World Cup has indeed been mightily impressive of course, and “The team is the star” is a fitting pull quote for this graphic. Ridge Mahoney is spot on with his take on RSL’s strategic success:

As a team, RSL’s advancement to the brink of a regional club title is a study in smart tactics and intelligent deployment of talented personnel. As an organization, its management of limited resources to succeed against richer clubs may be an even greater accomplishment, and a challenge to its league foes.

Indeed: their success with limited spending has been a fine example of simple resourcefulness, an underrated asset in MLS. One of the stats also pulled there tells the story of their remarkable fortitude: 25-0-9 at home, a 34 game unbeaten streak since May 2009.

Salt Lake have managed to create a buzz locally around the tournament unseen for quite some time in MLS, if ever, as Sporting News reports:

Unlike MLS teams in the past, Real Salt Lake has put significant promotion behind the tournament, and club president Bill Manning credits its Champions League success for securing two new sponsors—international home-security firm Vivint and Ford Motor Co.—to six-figure, three-year deals.

“We feel like we’re the first (MLS) team to make this our No. 1 priority,” Manning said.

The club also has drawn strong attendance numbers for Champions League games. An October match against Mexico’s Cruz Azul sold out Rio Tinto Stadium with 20,463 fans; a March 1 quarterfinals game against the Columbus Crew netted 15,400; and a March 15 semifinal against Costa Rica’s Saprissa drew 16,888. Manning expects Wednesday’s game in Salt Lake City to sell out.

In comparison, the club’s average attendance in 2010 for MLS games was 17,095.

“Our fans have a sense of ownership with this tournament,” he said.

Of course, there’s a fair bit of hyperbole here. For the first time in soccer history, one American MLS team should be on everyone’s mind as they take the soccer world for a spin, forever changing the global perception of US soccer.

Uh, sure. I can’t quite see the world paying more attention to RSL-Monterrey than Real Madrid-Barcelona tomorrow, but maybe that’s just me.

That said, regionally it is of considerable significance: MLS’ #MLS4RSL campaign may have become tiresome, but there is an obvious truth to the need for MLS to gain more regional respect, particularly amongst fans of the Mexican league. Salt Lake’s gutsy performance last week in Monterrey earned all the plaudits it garnered.

MLS sensibly euthanised SuperLiga this year, and has accommodated Salt Lake’s scheduling requests to aid its title tilt, rearranging last weekend’s game against Philadelphia for later in the season. The league has quite rightly put its weight behind Salt Lake and helped manufacture some needed buzz for the competition.

Of course, fans of DC United and the LA Galaxy will rightly point out they have already conquered the regional championship – then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup – in 1998 and 2000 respectively. Neither featured a final on foreign soil, so the RSL advocates go in championing the unique nature of their possible victory, and the name and format-change the tournament underwent in 2008 means RSL can claim to be the “1st MLS Club Ever To Possibly Win The CCL”. Hell, if they do it, they deserve to claim whatever they want: and they’ll have done the CONCACAF Champions League some good, too.

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