Salt Lake seek breakthrough moment for MLS

MIAMI - Major League Soccer craves credibility and respect and on Wednesday the North American league hopes a victory for its Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League Final will be a breakthrough moment.

The MLS team enter the second leg of the title game for North and Central America and the Caribbean after earning a 2-2 draw away to Mexican champions Monterrey.

Those two away goals give the advantage to the team from Utah as they look to be the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF competition since it switched to a group format in 2008 and only the third since MLS began play in 1996.

Despite all of MLS's success in establishing a stable and respectably supported league in a country where professional soccer has struggled in the past, there remain many fans of the game in the region who prefer to follow foreign soccer.

Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey said this pattern needs to change and more soccer fans in the United States need to start paying attention to MLS action.

"Right now they don't. A lot of those people are going to deny, deny, deny and say they'd rather get up on Saturday morning and watch the EPL and that American soccer sucks. I just don't believe that," said Lagerwey.

"I think we get more respect outside our country than we do inside it and I think we'll win over a whole bunch of fans who simply can't ignore us if we're able to win and achieve consistent success."

MLS's D.C. United and Los Angeles Galaxy won the regional competition when it was a traditional knockout tournament but there has not been an MLS team in the final in 10 years.

The CONCACAF tournament, which began in 1962, has been dominated by Mexican teams as Cruz Azul and America have won it five times each and Pachuca on four occasions.

Costa Rican club Saprissa, who Salt Lake beat in the semi-final, are the most successful non-Mexican club in the continental championship with three victories.

This year MLS urged its teams to make the competition a priority and gave them greater flexibility in terms of roster rules and fixtures to help them fight on two fronts.

"In terms of what it means historically, I think it really makes a difference if we win or not," said Lagerwey, who sees Real's opportunity as similar to that faced by the U.S. national team.

"We're well past the point of moral victories. We've knocked on this door: in 2002 the U.S. goes to the quarter-final of the World Cup and got a bad call on a handball and lost to Germany. In the Confederation Cup we upset Spain and were up 2-0 at halftime against Brazil (in the final) and we didn't finish it.

"All of those are arguably highpoints for U.S. Soccer, but in each case we weren't able to finish. We haven't had that Lake Placid moment like the 1980 U.S. (Olympic) hockey team win over the Soviet Union - but that's the opportunity I think we have.

"I think we have an event of that scale that can put the world on notice that American soccer is taking another step forward."

For Wednesday's game, Salt Lake will be without their key midfield organiser Kyle Beckerman, who is suspended, while Monterrey are without injured midfielder Luis Ernesto Perez and the suspended Jesus Zavala and Aldo de Nigris.