Sounders using last year's exit as motivation vs. RSL

TUKWILA, Wash. — After three straight years of early playoff exits, the Seattle Sounders know there's building pressure to succeed.

Rather than hide from that, they are taking it head on as they prepare to open the Western Conference Semifinals against Real Salt Lake on Friday at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET; NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

"Pressure to me is an opportunity," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. "You don't have pressure unless there's an opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to do well. The guys that have been through it for three years, they know they want to do better than they've done in the past three years. That's the pressure they are heaping on themselves. It's a good pressure because it means they want to get after it."

READ: Seattle, Real Salt Lake set for clash at CenturyLink

That message seems to have trickled down to the players as well.

"Pressure you feel the whole year," Sounders forward Fredy Montero told MLSsoccer.com. "Every single game is going to be important for us. But this one we know what it's all about. We need to do our best, it doesn't matter if we feel more or less pressure.

"If you can use the good pressure to motivate you, to jump onto the field and do everything you need, it's going to be good for the team."

If history is any indication, the tension is likely to remain until the final whistle blows at the end of the two-legged series. In 11 previous MLS encounters, just one goal separates these two teams.

Right now, RSL are able to claim victory in the most important meeting: last year's playoffs. The pain of that loss is something the Sounders have not yet forgotten.

"We use the bitterness of the defeat as a motivation in itself," Sounders defender Jeff Parke said. "It's something that you let the bitterness and that feeling be in the back of your mind as not wanting to be there."