SANDY — There was an underlying theme this week when Mike Petke discussed Real Salt Lake’s playoff chances at Kansas City, and it all centered on the word “manage.”
On multiple occasions and in answering a variety of questions this week, RSL’s coach frequently discussed the importance of managing the game on Sunday in the Leg 2 of the Western Conference semifinal (1 p.m., ESPN).
“Managing it early on is going to be huge to let the game settle down a little bit,” said Petke.
“It’s going to be a tough first 15 to 20 minutes for sure because they’re going to come at us. They have an unbelievable environment, and we have to manage the game a little bit,” he reiterated.
“It’s important for us to manage this game. We don’t to get ourselves stretched cause we’re chasing a goal because they got an away goal, it’s a 90 minutes, it’s a long game. The opportunities will be there and then as the game goes on in the second half at certain scenarios, certain times adjustments will be made off the score,” Petke said again.
The bottom line is, RSL fully expects Kansas City to come out with a ton of adrenaline on Sunday, and how Petke’s team deals with that pressure will be the key to the game.
If Real Salt Lake isn’t clean on the ball and gives it away cheaply, Kansas City could easily bury a goal or two early and coast the rest of the match. Conversely, if RSL keeps a clean sheet amid the early pressure, its confidence in pulling off the upset should grow throughout the match.
The scenario for both teams is pretty simple on Sunday. The opening leg at Rio Tinto Stadium last weekend resulted in a 1-1 draw, which means the winner of Leg 2 advances to the Western Conference final against Portland, which wrapped up its series with Seattle on Thursday in a shootout.
If the game ends in a tie, there are three possible scenarios. A 0-0 draw would send Kansas City through on the away goals tiebreaker. If the game ends 1-1, then the series would head to a 30-minute overtime. A 2-2 tie or greater would push RSL into the next round because of the away goals tiebreaker.
“With the environment there, with the crowd and how involved they get throughout the game the first 15, 20 minutes, they’re going to be amped up and they’re going to be on the front foot for sure,” said Petke. “Not saying we’re going to be sitting back on top of (the 18-yard box), but we have to be organized and not give them anything.”
RSL only won three regular season road games this year, but it did win at LAFC two weeks ago in the playoff knockout round, and it also earned an important 1-1 draw at Kansas City on Sept. 30.
Real Salt Lake got a ninth-minute goal from Corey Baird against the run of play in that match, and that’s the best hope for a visiting goal again this Sunday.
“Make sure we’re on same page, making sure we don’t come out slow and let them get on top of us, let the crowd get into it. Once they start getting into a rhythm, they’re a very dangerous team, just breaking them up as much as possible,” said Baird.
RSL will be without playmaker Albert Rusnak, who is suspended because of yellow card accumulation. Kansas City, meanwhile, will get a boost to its lineup as defender Seth Sinovic returns after being suspended for Leg 1 because of a red card picked up in the regular season finale.
His presence makes Kansas City even more dangerous when its outside backs push up into the attack.Comment on this story
In addition to Rusnak, RSL will likely be without center back Marcelo Silva as he is listed as questionable with the groin injury he picked up in the first half of Leg 1. Justen Glad replaced him in the lineup, and he figures to get the nod next to Nedum Onuoha on Sunday.
Glad said that playing next to newcomer Onuoha has been easy thus far.
“He’s very vocal, which is awesome in terms of organizing and communicating with the back line. He’s a very physical presence, which is always nice to have next to you,” said Glad.
His experience has paid dividends in both playoff games, and the veteran English defender will need to have another great game for RSL to pull off the road win.