SANDY — Real Salt Lake has grown accustomed to visiting teams at Rio Tinto Stadium bunkering in for 90 minutes and defending. It can be frustrating to play against, but RSL has become so good at breaking the tactic down it hasn't lost a home game in a year and a half.
In FC Dallas' only regular-season appearance at Rio Tinto Stadium a few weeks ago, it refused to play like everyone else. It tried to play its brand of soccer instead of simply defending, and it caught Real Salt Lake way off guard.
Coach Jason Kreis' team eventually won 2-0, but with a better finishing in the opening half, FC Dallas could've easily won the match.
Heading into this Saturday's playoff game, some have suggested that with a 2-1 lead in the total goals series, Dallas will try and defend for 90 minutes to protect its hard-earned lead. RSL actually expects the opposite.
"I expect they're going to come in and do what they have been doing all season, which is play in the opponents half and try and dictate the tempo and the flow of the game," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Depending on how aggressively Real Salt Lake comes out, Dallas might be forced into a defensive shell anyway. Realistically though, RSL won't go all out too early, knowing it only needs to make one goal over 90 minutes. It needs to win by two goals, however, to avoid overtime and advance to the next round.
Regardless of how Dallas plays, Will Johnson said it's going to be tough.
"Either way, I think it's dangerous. Obviously if they come and press us we've got a lot of speed up front, and we can get in behind," he said. "And if they think they're going to sit back in front of 20,000 people for 90 minutes, that's a pretty tough task too."
Real Salt Lake's players know better than anyone just how tough protecting a one-goal lead on the road can be.
Against Columbus in last year's first-round series, a confident Real Salt Lake took a 1-0 lead into Game 2 on the road. It promptly coughed it up, surrendering two goals in the opening 30 minutes as the pressure of protecting the lead seemed to get the better of the players. With nothing left to lose, RSL outplayed the Crew the final hour, scoring three straight goals to win the game 3-2 and the series 4-2.
A similar thing happened in the 2008 playoffs against Chivas USA. Leading 1-0 after Game 1, RSL conceded the series-tying goal to Chivas in the first half. It responded with two straight goals and held on to win the series.
This year, the roles are reversed, and Real Salt Lake knows there is just as much pressure trying to protect a lead. It's a big reason why Dallas' coaching staff probably won't ask the players to drastically change the way they've played all year.
"I would be surprised if they sat back to be honest. I think given (coach) Schellas Hyndman's resume, he doesn't like to sit back and absorb pressure, he likes to come out," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "They did well coming out against us at home the last time we played them here. I would expect them to come out hard in the first 15, 20 minutes of the game, see if they can't nick one."
RSL vs. FC Dallas
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Rio Tinto Stadium
TV: Fox Soccer Channel