SANDY — Kyle Beckerman is ready to fix what happened in Dallas last weekend.
"We just want to make it better. It sucks when you lose a game, and then waiting around that whole week with a bad taste in your mouth," said Real Salt Lake's captain.
Losing stings even more when it's such an anomaly too. Until its Game 1 loss at Dallas last Saturday, RSL had lost just one league match since the end of April — a stretch of 25 games.
"This is a championship team. Everybody in the locker room hates to lose," said defender Nat Borchers.
That one loss has RSL on the brink of playoff elimination. At the same time, the team has the advantage of fighting for survival at Rio Tinto Stadium, where it enjoys the best home-field advantage in MLS history.
FC Dallas owns a 2-1 lead heading into the final game of the Western Conference semifinal series tonight at 8 p.m. A win or tie clinches the Hoops their first playoff series victory since 1999. For a team that is just a few games removed from a 19-game unbeaten streak, it shouldn't be a daunting task.
For RSL, the scenario is pretty simple. It needs to win by two or more goals to advance to the Western Conference final. If RSL wins tonight's game by one goal, the series would then be decided by 30 minutes of overtime. If the score is still level on aggregate, the game would be decided on penalty kicks — which RSL should feel very confident about after last year.
"It's always easier when you're ahead in the series, but that being said we've got an impressive home record. We've got a bunch of guys who are experienced and not afraid of a do-or-die situation," said midfielder Will Johnson. "We've got guys who relish these opportunities, and that's what I expect on Saturday. It's go big or go home."
Real Salt Lake is in unfamiliar territory trailing after Game 1. In its two previous first-round series, it was the lower seed and took care of business at home with a victory. That's exactly what Dallas did thanks to Eric Avila's 88th-minute wonder goal last weekend.
Now Dallas just needs to protect the lead to advance. At Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real Salt Lake is unbeaten in 32 straight in all competitions, it won't be easy.
"I think that our team is at their absolute best when their backs are firmly against the wall, and now that's exactly where we are," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
As much as RSL wants a methodical 2-0 victory over Dallas, similar to their previous meeting at Rio Tinto Stadium just a few weeks ago, a high-scoring game is more realistic.
The second games in MLS first-round series are often wild affairs. It was Thursday night as San Jose shocked New York 3-1 to win the series 3-2 on aggregate. In RSL's first-round series the past two years, the final scores of Game 2 were 2-2 and 3-1.
Beckerman said he hopes it's not like that again, but he is prepared for anything.
"I'd like us to control the game and calm it down and score the goals we need," said Beckerman. "But, it could be a wild one tomorrow, and if that's the case we'll rise to that occasion."
Despite needing at least one goal to advance, FC Dallas is too good on the counter attack for RSL to just throw bodies forward from the opening minute.
"It would be nice to get the goal early, but it depends on how they play. If they come out and sit in their shape and just defend, I think it's going to be tough. It's going to take 90 minutes," said Borchers. "We're going to have to have patience at points in the game to make sure our possession is working and we're moving guys around."
What RSL can't afford is to concede an early goal. That would be the green light for Dallas to drop back and defend like crazy, and it's good enough to get the job done.
The series winner will meet either Los Angeles or Seattle in the Western Conference final. They conclude their series on Sunday.
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