Real Salt Lake defender Robbie Russell scored the winning goal in a penalty shoot-out in front of a crowd of over 60,000 people in Seattle to bring his team its first MLS title in franchise history. That year, Real’s crew was the best in major league soccer. Nearly a month and half before Russell’s goal, Real boarded a different bus as champions. This time, the bus was parked outside of South Field in Provo.
Friday, Oct 2, 2009 marked the last match-up between BYU and Real Salt Lake. RSL won that game 3-1 leaving BYU disappointed. In the years since that game, BYU has been training and preparing for a rematch–a rematch set for this coming Saturday, May 19 at 5 p.m.
“It’s not hard to motivate the guys for a game this big.” Assistant Coach Hugh Van Wagenen said. “Any time we get a chance to play against guys this good, we’re excited.”
The Cougars have not lost yet this season, but Real is no college team. The campus crew will have to raise its game to the next level to keep up with these professionals.
“You can’t beat these guys by just kicking and running,” junior midfielder Antonio Niccoli said. “These are paid professionals. They’re faster and stronger–as they should be. We have to play good soccer; pass and move ’til we can put the ball in the net.”
In addition to being MLS champions in 2009, Real Salt Lake also made the finals for the North and Central American Champion’s League in 2010-2011. A team of this caliber visiting Provo is big news and the players are trying to look passed the hype and concentrate on their preparation.
“We’ll need complete focus to avoid any mistakes,” senior defender James Bindrop said. “I mean, that’s where the news and the hype can cause you to be a bit shaky. The first focus is to get your head straight.
Standing on the practice field with the players circled around him, Assistant Coach Brandon Gilliam critiqued a practice session that just concluded.
“Remember possession and being calm on the ball,” he said. “Let’s play the same game at the midfield stripe as we do in front of the goal.”
Gilliam will be among other staff members on the sideline helping the team to stay focused and defeat RSL. He said that winning will take support from both sides of the stadium though, not just the coaches.
“Energy level will be key. We need the fans to help lift us for the whole 90 minutes if we are going to compete with Real Salt Lake.” Gilliam said.
Although Robbie Russell is no longer playing for Real Salt Lake, the team does have nine players from its MLS championship roster–the same roster that defeated BYU. The Cougars don’t have a single player in their lineup that has squared off with RSL before. As Real looks to repeat previous success, BYU looks to get revenge. Whatever the outcome, the match promises to be a thriller.
Tickets are available online through byutickets.com and at the gate.