The “other” Champions League: hard work ahead for Houston, Real Salt Lake

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Two MLS clubs will try to punch their way through to next year’s CONCACAF Champions League elimination stage.

Houston vs. Olimpia (8 p.m. ET, FSC)

Houston needs a win or draw in tonight’s meeting with Honduran club C.D. Olimpia at BBVA Compass Stadium, where Dominic Kinnear’s side has yet to lose.

The teams drew in Honduras back in August, so it’s easy to like the Orange’s chances tonight, even with a team full of reserves that we are likely to see.

In fact, Kinnear has always preferred to use cup competitions to develop the bench and stash away some down time for his regulars. In the teams’ 1-1 draw down in Central America six weeks back, Kinnear went about half-and-half between regular starters and reservists.

In this case, there’s a little extra wiggle room (thanks to a Tuesday match rather than one on Wednesday) between tonight’s match and Saturday’s contest outside Denver. But given the stakes involved in Saturday’s meeting with the Rapids, Kinnear seems certain to rest a few key cogs tonight.

Real Salt Lake vs. Herediano (10 p.m. ET, FSC)

Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis doesn’t have the same luxury. For one, his team cannot afford the draw in tonight’s contest against Costa Rica’s Herediano. It’s squeaky-bum, must-win time at Rio Tinto Stadium, and the entire organization is desperate to get into next year’s quarterfinals, to make a run at the regional championship they came so close to claiming two years ago.

In addition to organizational accomplishment, there are financial incentives involved in this one, as well. Serious stuff, that.

So they have to win by a 1-0 score or by two goals otherwise in order to pass the Costa Rican champs in CCL Group 2. The other rock to this hard place is being without suspended striker Alvaro Saborio (out due to yellow card accumulation). They may also be without in-form striker Fabian Espindola and starting center back Jamison Olave, who are dealing with injuries.

So, lots of heavy lifting ahead, although one meteorological edge is falling in their favor. The rainy, cold weather forecasted will certainly not fall into the Costa Rican’s comfort zone.

RSL fell by a goal (1-0) in the sides’ meeting in Costa Rica, a result remembered from RSL side by Nat Borchers’ controversial ejection.