CARSON, Calif. — As good as Real Salt Lake has been at Rio Tinto Stadium since its opening in 2008, truth be told, when the season is on the line RSL has been better away from home.
That bodes well for Real Salt Lake tonight when it takes on the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference final at the Home Depot Center at 7 p.m.
In MLS playoff and CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages, when RSL is on the road it has advanced or won the title 6 of 6 times. At Rio Tinto Stadium though, fans have traditionally left disappointed as RSL is just 1 of 4 in similar situations, with that one triumph coming in the CCL quarterfinals against Columbus back in March.
RSL hasn't won all those road elimination matches, in fact quite the contrary — it's won just once, with three additional ties. The shootout wins over Chicago and Los Angeles in the 2009 playoffs go into the record books as ties.
What it all boils down to, the core group of players who've been with RSL since 2008 somehow find a way to get the job down on the road.
Last Wednesday's match in Seattle wasn't a thing of beauty as the Sounders won 2-0, but the shorthanded performance was good enough as Salt Lake advanced on aggregate 3-2.
"Once we got to the playoffs we showed up when we had to," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
RSL could be shorthanded again tonight as center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave are both questionable, but regardless of who plays, it hopes for more road playoff magic against the two-time MLS Supporter's Shield winner.
"We're just really excited. We didn't really care if it was New York or LA. We knew it was going to be a tough team. We had to go through No. 2 in league and now we have to go through No. 1," said Beckerman. "If we can make to the finals it will be well deserved."
While RSL advanced on aggregate, Los Angeles beat New York in both games, including Thursday's 2-1 win over the Red Bulls. Both teams will be on a very quick turnaround, but neither coach really sees that as an advantage or disadvantage for either side.
"Our big focus right now in just a short period of time is getting our team ready to play on Sunday. Playoff preparation is easier than it is during the regular season," said L.A. coach Bruce Arena. "At this point in time, every team that's left in this competition is very well aware of their opponent."
Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles split the season series. RSL crushed Los Angeles 4-1 in late March at Rio Tinto Stadium, but the Galaxy returned the favor last month with a 2-1 victory at the Home Depot Center.
Even though both teams would love an early goal, Ned Grabavoy expects a cautious start to the match.
"I think it's a little bit different when it's one game, winner advances. There's no aggregate right now. We're going into this 0-0. I'm pretty sure L.A. is going to be somewhat careful with how they approach the game as well," said Grabavoy. "You'll see more of a chess match, teams at the beginning feeling each other out, teams not wanting to give up a crucial goal early in the game."
Four days after its midfield struggled to maintain any semblance of possession at Seattle, Real Salt Lake needs a much better effort against Los Angeles' talented midfield led by Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
"Our main concern is to try and get our passing game going. When we're moving on all cylinders we kind of take away other team's best players because their dealing with defending," said Beckerman.
That's going to be much easier said than done against a Galaxy team that was 12-0-5 at home — the only unbeaten home team in MLS this year.
Western Conference final
Real Salt Lake at L.A. Galaxy
Today, 7 p.m.
Home Depot Center
TV: ESPN Radio: 700 AM, 1600 AM