SANDY — In four all-time playoff appearances, Real Salt Lake is 3-0 as the lower seed and 0-1 as the higher seed in two-leg series. If coach Jason Kreis' team expects to make a march through the 2012 MLS playoffs, that trend will need to change.
By virtue of Los Angeles' 1-0 win over Seattle on Sunday night, RSL enters the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and will face No. 3 Seattle. Had the Sounders not surrendered an 83rd minute goal at the Galaxy in the final game of the MLS regular season, they would've clinched the No. 2 seed instead.
Game 1 of the two-game aggregate Western Conference semifinal series will be in Seattle this Friday at 8:30 p.m. (MDT), with the return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for us to play Seattle just like it was last year," said RSL defender Chris Wingert.
RSL and Seattle met in the conference semifinals last year, with RSL winning at home in the first game 3-0 and Seattle prevailing 2-0 in Game 2. With the 3-2 aggregate victory over the Sounders, RSL improved to 3-0 all-time in the playoffs when it played the second game on the road.
Real Salt Lake eliminated higher-seed Chivas USA in the playoffs back in 2008, and then higher-seed Columbus back in 2009. Back in 2010, however, RSL was eliminated by FC Dallas in the conference semis after losing Game 1 in Dallas and settling for a draw in the return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Over the next two weeks, RSL will try and alter that trend.
Unlike last year's playoff series when five goals were scored, this time around it has the makings of being much more defensive. In three meetings this season, Real Salt Lake and Seattle have combined for just one goal in 270 minutes of soccer — a Fabian Espindola goal at Seattle back on May 12.
"They're a team that's kind of been toward the top of the league the last few years, so every game we've played with them has been a big game, someone's trying to prove they're the more dominant better team," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy.
Less than two weeks week ago, the rivals played to a scoreless draw in Seattle. It was the first of three straight scoreless draws for RSL, which has many wondering where the goals will come from in the playoffs.
"Different points in the year we're having trouble in the back but we're scoring a ton of goals, but now in the last couple of weeks we're real solid in the back but having trouble putting some chances away," said Grabavoy after Saturday's 0-0 draw with Vancouver.
RSL leading score Alvaro Saborio, who officially finished third in MLS with 17 goals, didn't play in two of those three scoreless draws. He'll need to have a big series if RSL expects to advance to the Western Conference final.
The Western Conference playoffs open on Thursday with No. 4 Los Angeles hosting No. 5 Vancouver in the one-game playoff series. The winner advances to face Supporters Shield champ San Jose in the conference semis.
"Anybody from the West I can see going to the championship. A lot of teams are in real good form right now, especially those top four teams," said Wingert.
Real Salt Lake has had success against every playoff team in the West except San Jose. It is 1-0-2 against Seattle, 2-1-0 against Los Angeles and 1-1-1 against Vancouver. Kreis' team is 0-3-0 against San Jose though.
Real Salt Lake on the air
Western Conference Playoffs
No. 2 Real Salt Lake at No. 3 Seattle
Friday, November 2, 8:30 p.m.
Century Link Field, Seattle, Washington
TV: NBCSN Radio: 700 AM
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