TSG’s Jay Bell gets on the horn with RSL’s key men
Last weekend I got a chance to speak with a couple of Real Salt Lake players about their CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey. I was able to speak with Arturo Alvarez (AA) for the second time in just over a month and I was also able to chat with RSL’s head man between the pipes, Nick Rimando (NR).
Time dictated that I was not able to present the interviews in their entirety, but what you see here is the bulk of their answers from my conversations with them. Both guys opened up about the first leg, the substitutions, the atmosphere, the second leg, Jason Kreis and having the support of MLS clubs, players and fans behind them:
AA: “I think we approached that match just like any other match.”
“We went in there with the mentality to get the win, get a result and I think we’re really happy with it at 2-2.”
Familiarity with the underdog role
NR: “We seem to do well when he have that underdog role. I think if we keep doing well in these competitions and in the league, we’re not going to have that role anymore. We’re okay with having it. We’re okay with going into games with not so much pressure on us and just going out there and showing these other teams and the rest of the world that we can play with the best teams and we can get results when we need to.”
AA: “I think Monterrey probably came into this series as the favorite to win this tournament or at least win these championship games. We’ll take the underdog title and we’ll make the most of it. We know the kind of team that we are. We never gave up.”
On Monterrey’s early substitutions
AA: “I was surprised that the moves were made really early. It happenedjust right after they scored. We didn’t really know what to think about it. We did learn I guess, that they were injured though.”
“At first, I really didn’t know what to think.”
AA: “Those two players for them are key players for their team. De Nigris scored the goal, but I think whenever you’re in the final, this Monterrey team will have an important player brought in.”
NR: “You could take it as a disrepect sort of thing or they think that they had it in the bag. But reading the paper later, they were both injured and are going to be out for several weeks. You can’t really blame the coach unless that’s not the truth.
Whenever you sub early like that, two of their offensive players. I also thought it kind of took away from their game a little bit. They score a goal, you kind of get a rhythm going and you get a fire going in you. I think that is kind of the opposite that happened there. You get a hold of the game, you have some opportunities, but again, its the coach’s decision.
If someone is hurt on our team and he needs to come out, I’m sure Jason will do the same thing.”
Inevitable rationalization that the substitutions saved RSL
AA: “I don’t think the two early substitutions affected the game in any way. I think they kept possession. At that moment we just worried about ourselves and just made sure that we were playing our game.”
NR: “For me, I look at it as an opportunity to capitalize on taking out two players and for them not to get into a rhythm. And that is how we took it as a team. We really didn’t stop think about ‘they’re taking them out, this is disrespectful.’ We just carried on playing and that’s what we did. We played our game and fortunately for us it came at the right time. They took those players out and we started to keep the ball a little bit, play the ball around, got our opportunities and ended up scoring.
If it helps us, sure, I hope they do it again so it helps us. Any way we can get some help and any way that we can get some goals and to take the rhythm away from the opposing team, I’m okay with that.”
Line of reasoning that RSL is lucky to face a Monterrey squad without key players in the second leg.
NR: “We’ve proven that we can play without players who are out with red cards or injuries. We’re going to see who’s, I guess, deeper. We’re playing without Beckerman. We’re playing without two players as well. We’re going to have some players that are going to come in and show how deep we are. If you are a good club and you want to go to that next level, you’re not just going to do it with 11 players. We know that. Monterrey is still a good team without those two players.
They’ve proven to be a good team. We’re not taking them lightly and I am sure that they’re not going to take us lightly.”
AA: “I don’t think we’re getting lucky or anything. Both teams are here for a reason. I think they have the players to bring in. At the end of the day, its 11v11 on the field.”
How the first leg compared to previous top club matches in their careers
AA: “This match was probably one of the most important ones. Atmosphere-wise, it was amazing playing out there. Obviously you have the whole crowd and the whole stadium against you. To me, personally, in a way it motivates me to play better, play harder just because you want to silence the stadium and that is pretty much what we did at the end.”
NR: “Its definitely up there. I think its one of the most important games I’ve ever played in. Just to know that we have a chance to make history. Every time you have the opportunity to make history and win a championship, you want to take advantage of it. You want to take a hold of it.
Who knows how long my career is going to be and everyone else’s or when you’re going to get to the championship game again. I really want to take a hold of it.
To go there at Monterrey and where US teams never get results and to pull a 2-2 draw is huge. We knew that. We were prepared. I think the coaches did well preparing us.
Any time you go away and play a home team, especially a Mexican team, you kind of prepare yourself for that. For us to go in there, it was an important game, we all realized it and we got the job done.”
A possible national team “feel” to the run in the Champions League
AA: “Yeah, obviously its a neat experience. I think us going and playing in Mexico, Costa Rica and other countries it does have that national team experience. To be quite honest, I don’t think there is anything like playing for your national team against other countries. Its a great tournament and the best club teams in this area are a part of it. Its good to be a part of it and we’re doing great.”
NR: “Yeah, yeah it does. It has a little bit of that national team feel. Whenever you play a Mexican team, it doesn’t matter if you have Colombians or Argentineans on your team, it still feels like US vs. Mexico You have people barking at each other on the field. The fan support there is always going to be harsh.
Even if you’re a good team and you have good players, you’re nothing to them. You’re a horrible player in their eyes. They have kind of an arrogance and pride that they’re always going to be better than us. That’s at the national level and that’s at the club level.
We knew going in there it was going to be exactly that. Its US vs. Mexico and we have the support from the United States and I think they have the whole support of Mexico.”
Arturo’s role with the team
AA: “I think that is where the coaching staff wants to use me, as a forward. At the moment, I’m not having the opportunity to start or get a starting position, but I can’t let any of that bring me down. I think I just keep doing well in practice and keep my confidence up. Any opportunity that I get, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Is he comfortable with that role
AA: “I mean, I’m not going to sit here and say I’m comfortable because if you’re comfortable being on the bench then obviously, that is not a good thing to be like. Any team I’ve played for I’ve wanted to be a starter. It comes with hard work and dedication. This is a good team and I think sooner or later I will win a spot in this team.”
Monterrey’s “missed opportunities”
NR: “Whenever you don’t score on your opportunity, its a missed opportunity, but we did as well.
Man, its the game of soccer. You’re going to have some missed opportunities. Sometimes you don’t put away your opportunities. We’re okay with that. I’m okay with that. If they don’t put a shot on frame or if I make a save, I’m happy. I’m not thinking about their missed opportunities.
Same with them. I think our forwards had a couple of chances to get some goals up and the goalkeeper made some saves and we hit some wide. That’s what happens in soccer and I think in every sport.”
Arturo’s first minutes on the field
AA: “They were on top of us. They were looking for that third goal just to kill that game off. I came in and I was trying to ask for the ball as much as possible. I saw that opportunity where I won that ball and was able to find Javier. I just wanted to play so bad that I kept hustling and wanted to get on the ball. I got the ball on the play and we created a goal, which was a huge result for us.”
When Morales scored
AA: “It was amazing. First of all, its two away goals.”
“The whole stadium was quiet. That is exactly what I was trying to tell you. It makes you want to play better and makes you want to make all of the fans against you know that you are there for a reason. We got a result and it felt great.”
Mindset for the second leg
NR: “We’re at home. We’re going to approach the match like we have to win the game. We’re not going to go in there thinking that we could get a tie and a tie is okay. We are going to approach the match like its a home match playing in front of our fans and we want to be the aggressors. We want to be able to play good soccer and if we do that and we show up and we play the soccer that we know how to play, I think we’ll have a result to lead us to the championship.”
AA: “I think it is going to be the same way that we approach every game. We know that we are at home. We are not goigt to let anyone come here and beat us. In that case we are going to fight extra hard. Its a game where we can find ourselves in the Club World Cup. That is also extra motivation. We want to win this tournament for this league, for our club, for our organization and for our fans. I think we’re going to try to do whatever it takes to do that.”
NR: “I think we’ve just got to do better with their interchanging midfielders. They do that pretty well. Their balls over the top to Suazo, their counterattack we knew was going to be awesome and creative and they had some counterattacks on us. We have to, defensively, cut those out and limit the balls over the top to Suazo.
That’s their go-to guy and when they get their midfielders rolling and interchanging, they can be deadly. Fortunate for us, they weren’t too deadly and they didn’t put a lot of their chances away. But again, we played good defense and the back four in front of me did well to limit those.”
Adjusting to the loss of captain Kyle Beckerman:
AA: “Its going to be a tough one. We all know how big and important Kyle is for our club and for our team.”
NR: “Its going to be real tough. He’s our leader on the field and whoever gets in that role is going to have some big shoes to fill, but I think we pride ourselves on how deep we are. This is a game we have to prove it. We have to prove that we can play without our big players and we’ve done that before. To have Kyle not out there, I think he’ll do everything this week to make sure whoever is out there is prepared and it ready to go and is ready to step in and fill his shoes.”
AA: “We’re going to miss him and obviously I haven’t been in this club long, but I think Jason and the coaching staff are going to know who to put in there and do whatever it takes to win the game.”
On Jason Kreis
AA: “Its been great. I really know Jason personally. I played against him a few times. I think as a coach he’s strict and he knows exactly what he wants out of his players. I think that he believes in each an every one of us. That as a player gives you the confidence that every time you step on the field you want to perform. I think its been great and I’m glad that I am getting the chance to work with him.”
NR: “From our ownership and the technical side, everybody has made it really important that we need to do well in this tournament. And Jason has a big deal to do with that. That’s our preparation before the game and the preparation in the offseason. For him to step up and to tell us and lead us in this tournament, that’s huge because we’ll follow him.
Whatever he does, we follow him. He’s got the respect of the players because he was a player before. He knows what it takes. He’s not just some coach telling us what to do. He knows what we need and I think that is a big reason why we’re at where we are right now.”
A message to the fans
NR: “We appreciate the support we’ve been getting. Even from our rivals we’re getting tremendous support and love. It really does mean a lot.
It means a lot to go to Mexico and know that we have [the fans’] backing, it gives us that extra boost.”
AA: “First of all I want to thank our fans and then thank everyone else around the league. They have shown support for us throughout this whole tournament and hopefully we can come in Wednesday and close this year’s out with a good result. Obviously win at home and put ourselves in the Club World Cup. I think we’ll be the first [MLS] club to do that. We’ll do whatever it takes, work hard and focus ourselves in that match. It’s been great. It’s been great knowing that everyone is behind us.”