RSL in the Playoffs: Clinching at Home is No Easy TaskRSL needs more than a draw to relieve some of the team's playoff pressure
by Chris Enger | Wednesday, October 31, 2012
As I watched Real Salt Lake play its regular season match against Vancouver and finish with a scoreless draw, the first thought that entered my mind was: “Looks like we’ll have to face Seattle in the second leg just like last year.”
I knew Seattle faced the Los Angeles Galaxy the next night and I knew if Seattle got the draw it would be the second seed, so it never crossed my mind that RSL could finish second. So I went to sleep without even checking the LA/Seattle score content with the thought that there would be a home match in Sandy, Utah, this week and a return trip to the frightening confines of CenturyLink Field.
So to my complete shock, when I checked the scores Monday morning, there it was – a win by the Galaxy, giving RSL the second seed in the playoffs and a chance to finish strong at home to move into the next round.
RSL is in an all too familiar predicament, having to finish at home. It’s the advantage every team wants, but for whatever reason, RSL has been miserable at trying to clinch a playoff game at home.
In elimination games played at home, RSL has failed to advance in five of eight attempts. At Rio Tinto, RSL has failed to advance in four of its five attempts. It isn’t due to lack of fan support either as most of the elimination matches have been played in front of capacity crowds.
In 2006, Real Salt Lake hosted Virginia Beach at Rice-Eccles in a US Open Cup match and struggled before finally winning on penalty kicks.
Two years later in 2008, RSL beat San Jose in another close match that also ended in penalties. That would be the last elimination game at Rice-Eccles and would start a streak of several elimination game losses at Rio Tinto.
At Rio Tinto in 2008, RSL hosted the Eastern Conference Final against New York and lost, 1-0.
During the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals, RSL faced FC Dallas needing a win by two goals, and “lost” by getting a 0-0 result.
In 2011, all Real Salt Lake needed to do was beat Monterrey to win the continent’s most coveted soccer title, the CONCACAF Champions League trophy, and failed to do so, falling 1-0. That is the year RSL also had its only elimination game win against the Wilmington Hammerheads in the US Open Cup third round.
First in 2012, RSL lost to lower division Minnesota, 3-1, at home in the US Open Cup. Then all the team needed to do to move into the elimination rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League was get a 1-0 result and it failed to do so “falling” to Herediano, 0-0.
What’s shocking is how RSL does when it hosts the first match in aggregate series. To host the 2008 Conference Final, RSL had to beat Chivas USA. The team went to the Home Depot Center after earning a 1-0 win at home and beat Chivas.
RSL beat the Supporters’ Shield winners, Columbus Crew, in 2009. The Claret and Cobalt earned a 1-0 victory at home and ended up with a 4-2 aggregate win.
And last year, RSL started at home against the Sounders and travelled to Seattle with a 3-0 win under its belt. RSL fought off Seattle the following game to finish with a 3-2 aggregate win.
When RSL starts at home, RSL coach Jason Kreis has mentioned that the team plays more loose and it wants to get a result that will enable it to know exactly what it’ll need to do at the opposing stadium. Conversely, for whatever reason, when RSL travels back to Rio Tinto knowing exactly what it needs to do to advance, it plays like a team under pressure.
Every time RSL has played at Rio Tinto knowing what the stakes are to advance, the same scenario plays out. The fans fill the stadium, the team starts out strong giving themselves numerous opportunities and then, as time is winding down, the pressure builds and the team starts pressing until eventually time runs out and the team fails to advance.
And here we are again, faced with the same scenario with a home and away with Seattle.
Seattle has yet to score on RSL this year. But, unfortunately, RSL has only scored once against them in three matches.
Seattle will fill CenturyLink Field with 66,000 faithful and will be looking at striking a damaging blow in RSL’s playoff chances.
RSL needs to get a winning result so that it can alleviate some of the pressure it put upon itself in these second home legs; if RSL earns a draw or worse, the team will face the same scenario that it has repeated all too many times.
NEXT UP: Real Salt Lake vs Seattle Sounders, 10 p.m. EST, from CenturyLink Field, on NBC Sports Network.