TORONTO - Oh, the best-laid plans of mice and men.
On Saturday, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis decided to rest the majority of his starters in a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids, so his “A” squad would be refreshed and ready for the CONCACAF Champions League tilt with Toronto FC at BMO Field on Tuesday.
Real Salt Lake needs just a tie to clinch one of the two top spots in Group A and a trip to the quarterfinals.
RSL began the game with Colorado with No. 1 goalie Nick Rimando, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson, all-star defender Jamison Olave and Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio all on the bench.
But, after Saturday’s draw, the team’s travel plans went haywire. Because of bad weather in Atlanta, half of the players missed a scheduled connecting flight to Toronto on Sunday. By Monday morning, many of the team members had yet to arrive, and were coming in on various flights throughout the day, with the last group not getting in until 5 p.m.
Kreis was forced to cancel the team’s Monday training session.
So, Toronto FC gets a massive break; instead of facing a well-rested team, the Reds get a Real Salt Lake team that has had to deal with a couple of days worth of travel woes.
No MLS team has reached the semifinals of the previous two CONCACAF Champions Leagues; it has given the league a black eye internationally — but, despite lip service on the importance of the tournament, Real Salt Lake is the first club in three years to regularly field strong lineups for the tourney.
“I’d agree that we have somewhat of a different approach than some of the teams have in the past,” Kreis said. “We are coming off an MLS Cup, so we approach this tournament with a high level of confidence. It’s a different challenge that we’d like to take on.”
Columbus has been able to sit a lot of its stars and manages to lead Group B. The Crew can clinch a quarter-final spot this week.
Seattle, after losing its first four matches, is done.
Los Angeles, despite its standing atop the MLS table, was eliminated in the qualifying rounds.
And it’s not like TFC has fielded full-strength lineups, either under Preki or under current coach Nick Dasovic. Last week, Dasovic made seven changes to his team for its 0-0 draw in Mexico City against Cruz Azul. Dwayne De Rosario didn’t start. Neither did keeper Stefan Frei.
But, as Kreis noted, Dasovic did start a strong group when TFC faced RSL in Utah — and the Reds got hammered 4-1.
“I really had no idea what they were going to do,” Kreis said. “It was right after they removed Preki and Mo Johnston. But, in my opinion, they put their strongest 11 out there.”
With two home games remaining in CONCACAF’s Group of Death, TFC needs six points. Toronto FC is basically dead in the water when it comes to making the MLS playoffs. It trails Colorado by seven points for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Rapids have a game in hand, and play their next two at home, where they are almost unbeatable in the Rocky Mountain altitude, against the expansion Philadelphia Union and cellar-dwelling D.C. United.
So, Dasovic needs to focus on CCL. He can pay as much lip service as he wants to the fact that the MLS season isn’t over ... but it is. CCL is TFC’s last shot at getting any sort of positive out of 2010.
Meanwhile, if RSL can come into BMO Field and replicate the 0-0 result it got in league play one month ago, it will guarantee advancement out of Group A.
“We want to get the result to keep everything flowing according to our plan,” said Kreis. “We do not want to go into our final game against Cruz Azul needing points.”
It’s worth noting TFC was exceptionally fortunate to get that draw with the defending MLS champs. Both Chris Wingert and Will Johnson rung shots off the post late in the second half.
Since New York broke Toronto’s undefeated season mark at home on Aug. 21, the Reds have gone winless at home. The only point the Reds have earned in the three games since then has been the draw with RSL.