LEHI, Utah – When Real Salt Lake see FC Dallas play, it’s a bit like looking in the mirror.
“The way we play soccer, from that to tactical decisions by the coaching staff, to individual abilities by the players," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said, "I think we’re very similar.”
Both teams prefer a fluid, attacking style of soccer to the physical, methodical style of play that has often been prevalent in the league. And so far, they have both shown a willingness to continue this brand of soccer into the playoffs even though conventional wisdom says that a cautious approach is in order, especially when playing on the road.
“I expect that they’re going to come in and do what they have been doing all season, which is trying to play in the opponent’s half and trying to dictate the tempo and the flow of the game,” Kreis said of the Western Conference Semifinal second leg on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, FSC). “So it should be a fantastic game to watch.”
[inline_node:322210]The teams are also similarly consistent. FCD compiled an MLS record 19-game unbeaten streak in 2010, while RSL are riding a 32-game unbeaten streak at home in all competitions. That consistency has put them atop the conversation of the best teams in the league, and makes playoff time par for the course.
“If you’re a very, very good team, you’ve played consistently the whole year, so why should you feel that you have to play better now?” Kreis said. “We’ve asked the same thing from our team since day one, and that’s to give their best every single week. If they give their best – win, lose or draw – we’re going to be happy, because most of the time we know that if they’re giving their best we’re going to get a lot of results.”
There are certainly tactical and personnel differences. RSL have gained notoriety for their compact diamond midfield in a 4-4-2 formation, with much of the buildup coming from the “spine” of the team with the outside backs providing width. The Hoops, on the other hand, thrive on the wings. Whether in a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, FCD like to spread the field and send their wingbacks forward to get extra bodies into the attack.
But similarities persist, perhaps none greater than the position the Hoops find themselves in currently. They are the underdog – a lower seed, and an upstart trying to dethrone the champions. They come into this match buoyed by a one-goal advantage after a victory at home in the first leg.
It’s a familiar scenario to an RSL team that has managed to knock off the higher-seeded opponent in the conference semifinals in each of the past two seasons – Chivas USA in 2008, and Columbus in '09.
“We had a game plan that we went into that second game with,” Kreis said of those upset performances. “I think we can expect a similar approach from Dallas.”
In this case, Real Salt Lake can only hope that’s where the similarities end. Otherwise they will be starting the offseason a little earlier than they had planned.
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