HERRIMAN, Utah – Real Salt Lake have the three stages of being an underdog down.
“We are by far the underdog in this game," RSL coach Mike Petke said. "Not only by seeding, but by the two games we played this year, by where they finished. You put all that together and we’re the underdog."
Petke's side lost to LAFC, 7-1, on aggregate in their two games this season, are the No. 6 seed visiting a No. 3 seed in the intimidating confines of Banc of California Stadium Thursday (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TVAS, TSN). That part is easy to see.
There’s always hope or belief.
“It’s a one-off game,” Petke said. “We know how talented they are. We’re not fearful of them. We’re very respectful of their capabilities.”
Said Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman: “Everybody’s beatable."
And in some cases disbelief.
“I don’t feel like we’re the underdog at all," right back Brooks Lennon said. "No one’s undefeated."
“It’s going to take a massive, massive effort from everyone,” Beckerman said. “It’s not just the 11 or the guys that are playing. It’s going to take everyone.”
A total team effort will be required. It’ll be an uphill climb, a difficult task. It will take RSL’s best.
“We know it’s going to be a very difficult battle,” Petke said. “This is a chance to play them a third time. It’s definitely not going to be the same game in many ways we played eight months ago. They have changed a lot. We have changed a lot.
“It’s going to be a very difficult environment to play in and a difficult team to play against. If we show up at our best, it gives us our best chance to move on.”
Practically, that means containing a dynamic team and playing a road game like a home game.
“What we have to do is to stay compact and move together. Stay clean on the ball and try to create our opportunities,” Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach said. “We have to put our pressure like in games at home and try to catch them in bad situations.”
It’s no easy task limiting the Western Conference leaders in goals scored. In their last game against Portland, a 3-0 loss that put RSL on the brink of elimination, giveaways hurt Salt Lake. LAFC will be even better suited to make them pay for any mistakes, so being clean on the ball will be of utmost importance.
“They’re very dynamic in their movement, players are flowing,” Petke said. “They have players who want the ball and can spray it. If you’re isolated with certain members of their team and you’re not close enough, they’re going to make you pay.”
An individual play can, and probably will, make the difference, but if that individual piece of magic falls Salt Lake’s way, it can change everything.
“Hopefully there are times when we can get them and put them on the ropes,” Beckerman said. “When we do that hopefully we can score and really change the game. Being up 1-0 or whether you’re tied or down, (one play can be) a big deal.”