Home-field disadvantage? Real Salt Lake wrestle with rough playoff history on familiar turf

SANDY, Utah — Over almost eight months and through 34 regular-season games, Real Salt Lake fought their way to the second-best record in the Western Conference, a single point behind Portland.

And the Claret-and-Cobalt's reward is … something they don't really want: the “advantage” of going on the road first and returning home for the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series against the LA Galaxy.

Is that really an advantage?

“It hasn't proven to be an advantage for us in the past,” RSL coach Jason Kreis, looking far less than happy, told reporters on Wednesday. “Hope that that changes this year.”

In their history, RSL have played in five home-and-away, aggregate-goal MLS playoff series. In two of those, they were the higher-seeded team and had the “advantage” of playing on the road first and then coming home for the second leg.

Salt Lake lost both series — to Dallas in 2010 and to Seattle in 2012.

Real were the lower-seeded team and had the “disadvantage” of playing at home first and then going on the road for the second leg three times. They won all three of those series — over Chivas USA in 2008, over Columbus in 2009 and over Seattle in 2011.

RSL have a strange string of failures at Rio Tinto Stadium that almost boggles the mind.

In 2008, the Claret-and-Cobalt lost the Western Conference title game to New York, 1-0. In 2010, they were eliminated from the MLS playoffs (1-1 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate) by FC Dallas.

In 2011, they lost the CONCACAF Champions League title at home (1-0 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate) to Monterrey (pictured at right). A year later, Kreis' side was eliminated from CCL play in a 0-0 home tie to Herediano.

Earlier this month, RSL lost the US Open Cup final at home to D.C. United, 1-0.

Despite fumbling away three chances to raise a trophy at Rio Tinto — all 1-0 losses, ironically — Salt Lake did advance past Columbus in the CCL quarterfinals in 2011. And it's not like the Claret-and-Cobalt have had nothing but success on the road — they lost the 2011 Western Conference Championship at LA.

But their greatest success, winning the MLS Cup in 2009, came in three consecutive road games; a 3-2 win at Columbus (to win 4-2 on aggregate in the first round), a 0-0 tie and 5-4 PK shootout win in Chicago and a 1-1 tie and 5-4 shootout win against the Galaxy in Seattle.

So, no, RSL aren't exactly thinking that the advantage they won is much of a bonus at all.

“I don't think so,” veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando told reporters. “I think having the first leg at your home field is the advantage.”

At least for Real Salt Lake.

“You kind of get that confidence at home,” Rimando said. “Get the blood flowing a little bit. And you know what you have to do in the second game.

“But it is what it is. We're happy that we came in second. We would've liked the first-place seed. But we've got to play it home and away either way.”