A few weeks back, Jason Kreis was asked if he ever goes into a match with a visualization of how things should unfold. Real Salt Lake's coach said yes, but added that more often than not circumstances change over the course of 90 minutes and you've got to adjust.
Heading into Wednesday's second leg playoff game in Seattle, Kreis knew his players were going to be under an enormous amount of pressure as the Sounders tried to make up a 3-0 deficit. What he didn't envision was how an RSL team known as one of the best possession teams in the league would play so poorly with the ball.
Four days after a dominating performance at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL simply couldn't link any type of possession together.
RSL defender Chris Wingert had a hunch it would be like that.
"I hate to say it, but you almost know it's going to be like that. We want to say that hopefully we're going to possess the ball, create some chances and get in their end, but I don't know what it is, it's almost the nature of the game, they tend to be like that," said Wingert.
The Sounders threw wave after wave at RSL, scoring twice in a span of five minutes early in the second half to whittle the aggregate lead to 3-2. The visitors did their best not to panic.
"We just kind of kept looking at each other, and just saying keep battling, keep fighting, what else can you do," said Wingert.
What RSL couldn't do was shake its defensive posture — until second-half stoppage time when it was finally able to maintain some possession.
"The tough part is that when you're playing like that for 60 minutes and they're pumping balls in and coming at you, coming at you, and you're defending, it's not easy to just flip the switch and say OK, well now it's a close game so let's go forward and knock it around. It usually doesn't happen like that unless maybe you're Barcelona or something," said Wingert.
Regardless of who Real Salt Lake meets in the Western Conference final either Sunday or Monday, the pace of the match certainly won't be as frantic. The big question is whether Nat Borchers or Jamison Olave will be available.
If they're not, Wingert and Chris Schuler will likely get the starting nod at center back again. If so, Kreis said improvements definitely need to be made.
"We need to take the next couple of days and really, really review the video critically with those two players 'cause if they're going to be in there again we're going to need an improved performance," said Kreis.
What he doesn't have to worry about is his team's willingness to fight and battle.
"We played some fantastic soccer last week, but that wasn't the case tonight. They were really pressing, they had the crowd behind them, it was a very fast surface and we were on our heels most of the game. But credit to us we dug in, and held out and got the result," said Tony Beltran.
RSL to face Galaxy in Western Conference Finals
Real Salt Lake's greatest triumph in franchise history came at the expense of the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2009 MLS Cup final in Seattle.
RSL will hope to draw upon that magic again this Sunday when the teams meet in the Western Conference final at the Home Depot Center at 7 p.m. (MDT).
As expected, the Galaxy took care of business on Thursday night beating the New York Red Bulls 2-1 to win the conference semifinal aggregate series 3-1.
L.A. and RSL split the season series, with both teams winning at home. RSL's 4-1 win occurred way back on March 26, whereas the Galaxy returned the favor last month with a 2-1 victory.
RSL's last victory at Los Angeles was a 2-0 triumph in June of 2009.
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