SANDY, Utah – At one point in August, four teams in MLS hadn’t lost at home this season, and all four were tops in the Western Conference.
FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy all finished with 50 or more points and finished as the top three playoff seeds in the West, while the Rapids were the only ones who remained unbeaten at home.
The fourth team — Real Salt Lake — finished with 46 points and in sixth place in the West, qualifying for the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs after missing them last season for the first time since 2007.
Looking up at the other playoff teams has Salt Lake remembering how they were successful in their seven-year postseason streak and how well they played at times earlier this season.
“You feel like, similar to 2009, nobody will really have us picked going far and being the underdog is a good spot to be,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said.
Salt Lake and LA have gotten quite familiar with one another when the playoffs roll around, having met more than once during this time of year over the past decade. The most recent meeting was a painful one, however — a 5-0 Galaxy rout that decided their 2014 Western Conference semifinals series.
“Familiarity isn't an advantage. We’re familiar with every team in the league,” RSL striker Yura Movsisyan said. “We have gone to LA and beaten LA in the playoffs before — who's to say we can't do it now?”
The other part of being the underdog is forgetting the past six weeks where RSL haven’t won, haven’t scored more than one goal in a game and were shut out four times in six games.
“It's a body of work that got us here,” Beckerman said. “It only takes one game. If we can win on Wednesday that will get some momentum going, so that will be our main focus. See if we can get something done in LA and make a run of it.”
Focusing on what is still possible and how well RSL were playing earlier in the season are the top priorities for Wednesday’s Knockout Round duel (10:30 pm ET; UniMás in USA, TSN1, TSN5, RDS2 in Canada).
“I have felt we've played really well on the road all season long,” Movsisyan said. “This is another opportunity to go prove ourselves and win it. They're a good team, but at the end of the day we can go anywhere and play our game. If we play our game, it will definitely be difficult for them.”
The best part about Wednesday is that none of what’s happened earlier this year necessarily factors in. It’s one game that will determine which side will move on to the conference semifinals.
“We all know it's a clean slate,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said. “We now know it will take complete games to get the results. It comes down to what we're doing. This is a place where we want to be. And it's one game to get to the next round and we have got to come through.”