SANDY, Utah – As Real Salt Lake head to Southern California for the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal against the LA Galaxy, it's a brand new game (5:30 pm MT on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN2 and RDS2).
The first leg ended in a scoreless tie, meaning that if there's a winner on Sunday that team will advance to the Western Conference Championship, no strings attached. RSL could even get there with a scoring draw, thanks to the newly-instituted away goals tiebreaker.
“They're going to go into their home,” said RSL midfielder Luis Gil. “All the pressure's on them.”
Fellow midfielder Ned Grabavoy doesn't necessarily agree, even with the Galaxy still viewed as favorites for the series.
“There's pressure on everybody,” Grabavoy told reporters. “But it's certainly an interesting scoreline right now, given that there's no goals.”
If the series stays that way after 90 more minutes of play on Sunday, a 30-minute period of extratime would follow with the possibility of a penalty kick shootout should both teams fail to score in the added time.
Whatever the possibilities, the Claret-and-Cobalt are in a better position than they were a year ago against this same Galaxy team, when they dropped the first leg 1-0 to LA on the road, before coming back home to win 2-0 and advance to the next round.
“If I had the choice, would I take this year as opposed to last year?” RSL defender Chris Wingert asked the media. “Yeah, but I'd certainly take the [end] result of last year.”
Either way, Wingert and his teammates all expressed optimism about their chances in Sunday's match at the StubHub Center. And perhaps that optimism is linked to Wingert's postulation that RSL might actually be better off heading to Carson without a lead.
“In some ways, of course, I'd like to be up a goal or two right now,” he said. “But in some ways, it's nice that we have to go in and play. I think sometimes if you go into that second leg, if you're in a defensive mindset, you end up getting yourself in trouble.”
He recalled a 2011 playoff series against the Sounders, when RSL took a 3-0 lead at home and then went to Seattle, where they held on to advance despite the Sounders' 2-0 win and, “it felt like 90 minutes just clearing balls. And we were lucky to get out of there.”
RSL head coach Jeff Cassar is well-aware that a tie could potentially be a win on Sunday, but he's not talking about that.
“I mean, listen, that can't be the message,” he told reporters. “We have to stay hungry. We've got to focus on what we can control. Anytime if you're not playing your best game against LA, they'll make you pay.
“If we go in there and start to sit back on them and think that's going to be enough and we're going to get one chance, we're going to absorb too much pressure. They have too much quality. We have to come in and play our game.”