SANDY, Utah — Sporting Kansas City's home-field advantage in Saturday's MLS Cup final might not be quite as much of an advantage as it would seem.
It seems counter-intuitive but it's true — the majority of Real Salt Lake's notable successes in big matches have come away from the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium. When the Claret-and-Cobalt won the 2009 MLS Cup, they did it entirely on the road — at Columbus, at Chicago and in Seattle against the LA Galaxy.
And RSL insist they thrive on hostile environments.
“I think we do,” defender Nat Borchers told reporters at training on Sunday. “Those games when we go into Seattle, we go into Portland, we go into LA with these massive crowds and they all hate us — we really enjoy it. We just enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy kind of the challenge that it takes to get a result and quiet the fans.”
Salt Lake are not, however, underestimating the the difficulty of playing in Sporting Park.
“It's difficult,” head coach Jason Kreis told reporters on Sunday. “We've only been there, I think, twice, and it was really, really loud.”
RSL are 0-2 in Sporting Park, losing 2-0 there in August 2011 and 1-0 in April 2012. This will be the first time they have traveled to Kansas City for a playoff game.
“But I don't know that we're going to get much louder than we were last weekend,” Kreis said, “so, again we're prepared for it.”
In Portland for the second leg of the Western Conference Championship, Timbers fans were deafening from start to finish. They stayed in the stadium, singing and chanting even after it was clear Portland couldn't make up a three-goal deficit.
“In my opinion, all the best crowds in the league are in our conference,” Kreis said.
And RSL players maintain that being the visiting team makes them more focused.
“Sometimes it's not bad to get on the road — to have a different kind of setup than you have at home,” RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy told reporters. “Sometimes I think the concentration can almost up a little bit when you go on the road. I think sometimes you get that focus a little bit when you go on the road.”
Kreis said it was that was when he was still playing; it's that way for his team now.
“I remember that the very best games were always in front of the biggest crowds,” he said. “You just get that shot of adrenaline. I know the guys feel the same way when we go to Seattle and Portland, and Kansas City will be no different.
"It will be a packed crowd, a loud crowd, and you just can't help but get up for those games and be at the top of your emotional curve.”