FRISCO, Texas – Real Salt Lake don’t lose all that often. Before Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to FC Dallas in the first leg of their playoff series, the defending champs last loss against MLS opposition came over three months ago — on July 17, also to FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park.
But the RSL locker room did not feel anything like that of a club that just lost a playoff heartbreaker on a late goal. Instead, there was an upbeat feeling among the players even though they are a goal down in the series, which wraps up next weekend.
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“The last time we played them [at Rio Tinto] what was the score?” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman asked reporters rhetorically in reference to his team’s 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 16. “That would be just fine right?
“We’ll move on [from the loss]. It’s halftime. Nothing to worry about.”
It might sound like cocky confidence, but there is plenty of evidence to back it up.
Real Salt Lake have not lost a match in the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium since May 16, 2009, in a match against the Kansas City Wizards. The unbeaten streak stands at a staggering 32 matches in all competitions.
“We’re going to be on our home turf, so it’s going to be about us being the aggressors and coming out and getting the first goal,” defender Nat Borchers said. “They’re going to have to deal with our crowd, our pressure and the altitude, so it’s going to be fun.”
RSL expect much better field conditions, too, at Rio Tinto Stadium — which will work in their favor as they seek to execute the possession-style brand of soccer they prefer.
“The whole middle of the field was a bunch of cleat marks and bumps all over the place,” Beckerman said about the Pizza Hut Park surface on Saturday. “I guess it was fine for them. But it was pretty bad. It was footballed out.”
If they are to advance and defend their title, RSL will have to do it without suspended playmaker Javier Morales and perhaps even forward Álvaro Saborío. Manager Jason Kreis said the Costa Rican forward has a groin injury on top of the knee problem that has been troubling him all season.
Morales, who was ejected with 20 minutes remaining in Saturday’s match, will likely be replaced by Andy Williams in the creative midfield role. Influential midfielder Will Johnson, who started on the bench at Pizza Hut Park after suffering a hamstring strain early in the week, expects to be at 100 percent by next weekend.
With just a one-goal deficit to overcome, Kreis and his team said a win is well within their reach in the rematch.
“I would hope so,” Kreis said. “This team over the last two, two-and-a-half years has been put in an incredibly large number of difficult situations and this is no different.”