Conventional wisdom says Real Salt Lake should keep 10 men behind the ball in Monterrey Wednesday.
It won’t happen.
Coach Jason Kreis doesn’t know how to play for a scoreless draw. It’s not in his DNA. A high-energy striker when he played, Kreis brings the same attacking mentality to his side.
His team plays best when they are on the attack and possessing the ball. While every member of the team is expected to play defense, they will all be on attack as well. Kreis tried to change formations and play for a scoreless draw during a regular season match last season in Dallas. It backfired and the side gave up two late goals.
“I’m a bit critical of myself right now,” Kreis said after the match. “My feeling is we may have made the wrong decision by switching formations tonight.”
Salt Lake played attacking soccer for the remainder of the season. The away goal tiebreaker makes getting a goal in Monterrey even more desirable.
Salt Lake benefited from the away goal tiebreaker in the semifinal round.
When Jamison Olave scored in the 61st minute of the second leg, Salt Lake took a 3-1 lead and the away goal tiebreaker. Saprissa went from needing one goal to needing three. Given this reality, the Costa Rican side, and their raucous crowd, folded.
“Obviously it’s ecstasy at that moment,” Kreis said of Olave’s goal. “That one goal got us to the next leg.”
Even without the tiebreaker, Salt Lake played strong attacking soccer last time they were in Mexico – a memorable 5-4 loss at Cruz Azul during group play.
“We came down here and did what we set out to do, which was not to sit back and defend the entire match,” Kreis said after the match. “We came out here and tried to put our best foot forward and go on the attack, and if you can put up four goals on Cruz Azul at their place you have to say you’ve done that.”
Kreis and his team believe they can play with anyone, anywhere. By their standards, the conservative attack used in the semifinal was restraint.
This time, Salt Lake doesn’t come in with a 2-0 lead. They certainly will play for at least one away goal.
They won’t be intimidated, either. Salt Lake has already passed that trial by fire.
Saprissa’s stadium (“The Monster’s Cave”) is known as one of the most intimidating in the region. It’s said to be so loud that road teams are typically unable to communicate in the locker room. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando literally had flashlights thrown at him during the match. Salt Lake survived there. They even overcame an early second-half goal.
“I’m looking out there at the guys to see if … we’re going to lose our stuff and continue to kind of go in a downward spiral,” Kreis said of his team’s reaction to the goal. “I think we kept it together pretty well. That’s another bit of evidence of [the team] being a mature group.”
While Monterrey’s stadium will be hostile, it’s hard to imagine the crowd rattling this veteran team or convincing them to play for a draw.
Expect fireworks Wednesday.
Tyler G. Page covers Real Salt Lake for goal.com and www.realsoccernation.com.