SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake have been to the MLS Cup playoffs for six consecutive seasons. They're playing in a conference championship for the fourth time in six years.
Portland, on the other hand, will be playing in just their third MLS playoff game ever when the two teams meet Sunday night in Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, ESPN, RDS2 in Canada). And the Timbers' lack of playoff experience means … absolutely nothing, according to RSL head coach Jason Kreis.
“I don't think it factors in much at all, honestly,” Kreis told reporters on Saturday. “I think that it's something that people like to talk about, but for me, the only thing that matters is what happens between the white lines for 90 minutes.”
Captain Kyle Beckerman agreed that any mention of the Timbers' relative lack of playoff experience is “all just for talk,” chatter that won't mean anything on Sunday.
“They're a good team. They believe in each other,” Beckerman said. “They believe in what their coach is preaching, so it's going to be two dogfights. It's going to be slim margins who takes this.”
And Kreis insisted that “Portland also has picked up quite a bit of experience... against a very, very good team in Seattle and showed how dominant they can be.”
While this is the Claret-and-Cobalt's fourth trip to the conference finals, it's the first time since the format was changed to a two-match series a year ago.
“I think that that's the way it should be,” Kreis said. “For sure. Absolutely.”
Well, unless he could have a single game played on his home field, the RSL boss joked. But if the format hadn't changed, Salt Lake would be headed to Portland — which finished one point ahead of RSL in the regular-season standings — and wouldn't be hosting a match on Sunday night.
Incidentally, the club has never played a home game on a Sunday. Not once in its nine years of existence, owing to the Mormon influence in Utah.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints normally don't attend sporting events on Sunday, and even the NBA's Utah Jazz avoid scheduling Sunday games.
As of Saturday morning, RSL had sold more than 12,000 tickets to Sunday's match, however, with around 8,000 remaining.
“I don't know what to think,” Kreis said. “I wasn't born and raised here. I'm not sure what the crowd will look like.
“I'm hopeful that we're going to have a sellout. I believe that the fans here will support us regardless of what day it is. And we all know that that means something to us.”
Beckerman said RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen, himself Mormon, told him, “'Once the sun goes down, it's a new day.' So, hopefully, we can go by those rules.”