Real Salt Lake ready for new 'mini season' beginning with Seattle
SANDY — A year ago, Real Salt Lake marched into the playoffs with a 14-game MLS unbeaten streak and as one of the favorites to win MLS Cup. It was eliminated in the first round by FC Dallas.
The circumstances are certainly different a year later.
RSL hasn't won since Sept. 21, and enters the playoffs with an 0-4-2 record over its final six matches. Virtually nobody outside of Utah considers RSL a threat to win MLS Cup.
That's just fine with Real Salt Lake's players.
"Those 34 games right now mean completely nothing. We're in a little mini season right now with a bunch of other teams," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "We have more than enough talent to get it done offensively and defensively. I've been in the playoffs a lot of times in this league, and it's funny how sometimes things work out."
For the first time since April, RSL might have its first choice lineup on the field tonight when it opens the MLS Playoffs against Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium at 8 p.m., a match that will also be broadcast on Fox Soccer.
Kyle Beckerman is back from suspension, Javier Morales has five matches under his belt, Ned Grabavoy is back from injury, and Tony Beltran is ready if called upon as well.
"It's a good feeling to think we might be able to put out our strongest lineup for the playoffs," said coach Jason Kreis.
Third-seed Real Salt Lake will need to be at its best if it hopes to advance past second-seed Seattle. After tonight's match the two-game aggregate series shifts to Seattle next Wednesday, with the winner advancing to the Western Conference final.
The teams split their season series, with each winning on the road.
"I'm hopeful we're hungry with something to prove. I feel after last year's playoff departure early, that gives us a little extra motivation. Getting so close to that 2011 CONCACAF championship should give us some motivation cause it was a bitter, bitter disappointment," said Kreis.
Seattle is the team dealing with a major injury concern heading into the playoffs. Midfielder Mauro Rosales, who led the Sounders with 13 assists and was third with five goals, is doubtful with a knee injury he suffered in last week's regular season finale. Seattle will likely rest Rosales in the first leg in hopes that he'll be ready to go on Wednesday.
Even if Rosales isn't in the lineup, the Sounders are plenty capable of stealing the road victory.
"They're going to be very organized, that's how Sigi (Schmid) already has his teams. We have to be patient, but be mindful to watch counter attacks and not give them anything," said Grabavoy.
In the playoffs for the fourth straight year, RSL believes experience could be a big factor in the series. Opening at home could be another advantage.
"I know that we're a team that likes to be aggressive in our mind set and in a lot of ways that probably plays into having the first game at home," said Kreis. "It will allow us to be even more aggressive in our play and get ourselves off to a good start and be on the front foot and hopefully take a good result to Seattle."
A win at home and a tie in Seattle would be good enough to advance, something that bodes well historically. In its three previous conference semifinal playoff series, RSL advance both times it was the lower seed and opening the series at home. Last year it was the higher seed against Dallas and played the second game at home.
"I don't know if it's a home field advantage to play away first or at home first, this is the way it is. I enjoy playing at home first you can get a head start on the series," said Beckerman.
Seattle's record at Rio Tinto Stadium the past two years is 1-0-1, but RSL's record in Seattle is also 1-0-1 the past two years.
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