SANDY, Utah – There's been a lot of talk around the Real Salt Lake camp that giving up a last-minute goal to Portland two weeks ago might turn out to be a good thing in the long run.
The idea is that going into Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference Championship at JELD-WEN Field (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes) up two goals instead of three might keep the team more focused. There's been too much talk of that, as far as RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando is concerned.
“We're still talking about that?” he asked reporters. “That happened how long ago?”
Two weeks between RSL's 4-2 win at home on Nov. 10 and Sunday's second leg is a long time indeed. But the match that Salt Lake players and coaches keep pointing to is not the one played two weeks ago, but one played two years ago.
“I can only go off experience,” RSL defender Nat Borchers told MLSsoccer.com. “And I remember the Seattle series two years ago when we went up 3-0 at home and then we went to their place and we bunkered in for 90 minutes in a really difficult situation and we barely got a 2-0 loss.”
Salt Lake advanced out of the Western Conference Semifinals 3-2 on aggregate that year, but it was a harrowing experience after giving up goals in the 56th and 61st minute and withstanding attack after attack for the final half hour.
And while it's a cliché that a two-goal lead is “is one of the most difficult leads in the game of soccer,” Borchers said it remains true. “It looks like a bigger lead than it really is. Two goals is a very dangerous lead.”
And it's the dangerous nature of the lead that the Claret-and-Cobalt are hoping turns to their advantage. While there might have been a tendency to relax a bit with a three-goal lead – the 2011 series against Seattle not withstanding – “It just opens our eyes a little bit going up there, making sure that we have to play a complete game,” Borchers said.
“It definitely makes us more focused,” RSL defender Lovel Palmer told MLSsoccer.com. “We know how hard it will be even with a two-goal lead.
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And, while Rimando might also be tired of talking about the 94th-minute goal Portland's Frédéric Piquionne scored back on Nov. 10, he does agree with his teammates that it served as a bit of a wake-up call
“I think it's the only way, really, to look at it,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “Yes, we had a three-goal lead. Now we have a two-goal lead.
“But if you'd told us before the game we'd have a two-goal lead, we'd have signed up for that in a minute.”