SANDY — History is both for and against Real Salt Lake in Game 1 of its playoff series at FC Dallas Saturday.
On the one hand, earning a result at Pizza Hut Park seems highly unlikely, considering the team's abysmal 0-8-0 record all-time in Dallas with a minus-13 goal differential. That includes a 2-0 loss this year. Conversely, one could argue that the run-up to last year's MLS Cup championship and a 2-0 record in Game 1 of previous playoff series gives Real Salt Lake a decided advantage.
Both arguments are compelling, but the only thing history can guarantee is a low-scoring soccer game.
The opening round of the MLS playoffs are a two-game aggregate series, with each team hosting one game. The series is often decided by one goal, and nobody wants to be the team that concedes first.
"That first game definitely seems to be defense on the mind first, nobody wants to make a mistake," said Kyle Beckerman. "And you see that in a lot of big tournaments."
In fact, in the 2010 World Cup this past summer, there were only 25 goals scored in the opening 16 matches. In the second and third wave of group games, there were a combined 42 and 34 goals respectively.
The same applies in the two-game MLS series, especially for the road team in the opening game. Until a goal is scored, both teams seem content to play conservatively.
That's certainly been the case for Real Salt Lake in its previous two first-round series.
Back in the 2008 playoffs, RSL hosted Chivas USA in Game 1 and the game remained scoreless until Yura Movsisyan's goal in the 90th minute. With the Goats needing a goal in Game 2, they abandoned their conservative approach from the previous game. The result was a 2-2 score in the second leg.
The same thing happened in last year's series with Columbus. The visiting Crew were very defensive in the opening game, but RSL eventually found the breakthrough it was looking for when Robbie Findley scored in the 88th minute.
The return leg in Columbus was much more open, as RSL prevailed 3-2.
This year, Real Salt Lake opens on the road, and it will likely approach the series in the same cautious manner Chivas and Columbus did.
"This very first leg we have to be entirely almost focused on how we defend because if we do the job defensively then we can come home and worry about how we're going to attack," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Even with its bleak history in Dallas, a shutout is realistic for Real Salt Lake. It set a new MLS record by only conceding 20 goals in 30 regular-season matches this year.
The timing of the match is advantageous as well. In almost all of RSL's previous matches in Dallas, the conditions were hot and humid. Not surprisingly, the players tired as the game wore on, with Dallas scoring five of its 18 goals after the 75th minute.
The high temperature in Dallas Saturday is supposed to be 75 degrees. If the weather isn't an issue, RSL would seem to have an edge.
"It's probably going to come down to the team who can get the result away. It's going to be the team that's the best organized defensively and takes its chances the best, and it's going to be very difficult for us to get a result in Dallas," said defender Nat Borchers.
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