Real Salt Lake looking to take advantage of home field
SEATTLE —In the weeks leading up to last Friday's first-leg, MLS Cup playoff match between Real Salt Lake and Seattle — after it had become apparent those two teams would finish second and third in the regular-season Western Conference standings and face each other in the postseason — many debates and discussions took place over whether it was better to be second or third.
In MLS Cup conference semifinal series — and in other two-game aggregate series throughout the world — the higher-seeded team has home-field advantage — playing the first leg on the road and then hosting the second leg.
But whether that's really an "advantage" is certainly open to debate.
After RSL headed off the pitch inside CenturyLink Field Friday night with a 0-0 draw with Seattle, you can count RSL coach Jason Kreis among those who believe the format can produce an advantage for the higher-seeded team.
"Looks pretty important now, doesn't it?" Kreis, inflecting his voice, said when asked about the significance of his team being the No. 2 seed and not the No. 3 seed. "We kinda talked before the series begins and you wan to have arguments and discussions about what home-field advantage is. But when you walk away 0-0 in the away match and you get to go home to decide it, it feels like a pretty decent advantage to me right now."
Certainly, being the higher seed can be a big advantage if you can get a positive result in the first leg — and RSL accomplished that last Friday behind a heroic performance from goalkeeper Nick Rimando and a bunch of other players.
Rimando suffered a broken nose and a laceration to his face that required three stitches to close during the second half Friday, but he incredibly soldiered on to help RSL not concede a goal in one of MLS' most difficult places to play.
RSL's veteran goalkeeper will be available to play Thursday — it's doubtful he'll need to wear a facemask, but it could be an option — and crucially, Salt Lake could have its full compliment of players for the first time in a long time.
RSL had major injury concerns heading into Friday's first leg — and Rimando, Fabian Espindola and reserve center back Kwame Watson-Siriboe all had injury issues during the game. Star defender Jamison Olave, who's been nursing a hamstring injury, replaced Watson-Siriboe in the second half at Seattle.
As of now, Olave, Espindola, Watson-Siriboe and defender Chris Schuler are all on track to be available Thursday.
If that happens, it would be a huge boost for Kreis, whose team hopes to finally break out of a scoring drought in the second leg.
RSL's last four matches have been 0-0 draws, but it has been generating chances, including during the first half Friday.
"Not at all," said Kreis when asked if he was concerned about the fact that his team hasn't scored in a while. "How am I going to be concerned? We just walked away with a 0-0 draw in an unbelievably difficult place to play against an unbelievably difficult team to play against."
Added Rimando: "Going home in front of our fans and our stadium, we've got a lot of confidence."
To get the job done, Kreis and Co. say they'll attempt to possess the ball and create chances — just like they always do.
"We'll try to handle it the same way we handle every game, which is to try to be on the front foot," Kreis said. "We're at home. Obviously we know we need to win to be able to move on. And we'll throw everything we have at it."
The game "should be something similar to (Friday), and we'll look to apply pressure and dictate the game," added RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
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