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RSL see Rio Tinto edge slip away again at crunch time

SANDY, Utah – Over its history, Rio Tinto Stadium has provided a definite home-field advantage for Real Salt Lake.

After all, the Claret-and-Cobalt went on an unbeaten streak in its friendly confines that spanned from May of 2009 until April of 2011. But when it comes to big games, the RSL faithful have seen their come up short at "The Riot" too many times, the latest being Thursday's 1-0 loss to Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals.

Even during their long unbeaten run, there were still instances like the 1-1 draw against Dallas in the 2010 playoffs when RSL came up short at home - that time, they needed a win after losing 2-1 at Dallas. This year, RSL couldn't pull out a win against Herediano in their CONCACAF Champions League group stage finale and were eliminated from the tournament following a 0-0 draw.

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And then there are the biggies.

Back in 2008, RSL had a chance to reach their first MLS Cup and were hosting the lowly New York Red Bulls, who'd backed into the playoffs despite a 5-2 loss on the last day of the season. Somehow, the home side managed to lose 1-0 despite controlling play for nearly the whole 90 minutes. Even bigger, there was the 1-0 loss to Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League final after they had done the tough thing and pulled out a draw south of the border.

So what happened to that mystique that surrounded RSL playing at home? Head coach Jason Kreis hopes it is just things evening out.

"You know I think that we were a very confident team at home. We are a team that gets on the front foot and tries to keep our opponents pinned in for most of the match and I think you saw that again [Thursday]," he explained following the Sounders victory. "Seattle was living and dying on the counter, and credit to them - they had a game plan and they succeeded with it.

"I hope that, in the grand scheme of things, everything evens out, and that’s just the way I see the game. So nobody misinterpret what I’m saying right now, but I hope that if there is 100 games played, the team that’s willing to risk more, the team that’s willing to be more bold, the team that’s willing to set the tempo and wanting to set the tempo gets results. But for what I have seen over the past couple of days, that’s not happening.”

The players are equally confused as to why the home-field advantage has disappeared for big games.

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"I'm not sure why we haven't been able to get it done at home," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "It does seem that there have been a lot of big games here at home where we have come out on the losing end of things."

And then, there is the logical reasoning for why teams have been able to come into Rio Tinto and leave with results in big games. They sit back, bunker, and wait for that one magic moment.

"The players and coaches are very smart; [Seattle head coach] Sigi [Schmid] is smart," said Grabavoy. "These guys see something that works, like sitting back and absorbing pressure and then countering, and they are quick to adapt to that style, with good reason why. Teams have seen that work against us, so they are using it to their advantage.

"I'm not sure if we need to change our method of attack or not. I would like to think that by playing good positive soccer, we would be rewarded, but it sure doesn't feel like that is happening right now."