Match Preview: FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake

Champs look to conquer demons of Pizza Hut Park

FCD-RSL preview

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The basics

FC Dallas (12-4-14, 50 points, third place in Western Conference) vs. Real Salt Lake (15-4-11, 56 points, second place in West) at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

All-time Series: FC Dallas lead 11-6-1; RSL won 2-0 on Oct. 16 at Rio Tinto Stadium; FCD are 7-0-0 against RSL at PHP.

TV info

4 p.m. CT, Fox Soccer Channel

Game Intro

There aren't many first-round matchups more marquee than this one. FC Dallas, who tied a record this season by going 19 straight games unbeaten, host the defending champions, who set a record in going undefeated at home this season. Sadly, one of them will have to go home once this two-leg tie is said and done.

The hosts will meet an experienced side – RSL return the bulk of that squad that hoisted the championship hardware a year ago. Dallas are back in the postseason after a two-year absence, led by MVP candidate David Ferreira, who has eight goals and finished second in the league with 13 assists.

FC Dallas

Chemistry could be the crucial thing for FCD in this playoff opener. Over the last few weeks, the Texas side has been re-integrating injured starters back into the first 11 and the results have been mixed.

This weekend, one big question is whether Kevin Hartman, who has been out since Sept. 16 with a knee injury, will return between the posts. If he is back, expect a much more poised and composed Dallas defense than the one that has allowed multiple goals in five of FCD’s last seven matches.

WATCH: FC Dallas match preview feat. Bobby Rhine

"I think Darío [Sala] has done a good job for us," said coach Schellas Hyndman, "But when you look at why we’re giving up those goals, it’s a combination of the changing of the players and then the communication and the coordination.”

Real Salt Lake

Jason Kreis’ club can look at last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Colorado in two ways. On one hand, RSL showed tons of character in coming back from a two-goal deficit and coming away with a draw thanks to a pair of late goals by Alvaro Saborio.

On the other hand, the defending champs and their head coach were more than a little miffed about their lackluster performance to dig themselves a two-goal hole against their Rocky Mountain rivals.

Such ill feelings could produce an even more focused Salt Lake side come Saturday, which is never good news no matter who they are facing.

“We’re in playoff mode and it starts today in training,” RSL defender Nat Borchers told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “We’re not satisfied with the way we played [in Colorado]. We know we can play better. In the training session today, everyone was sharp and focused. It’s playoff time now and it’s a whole different ball game.”

Heroes & villains

Javier Morales vs. the FCD defense: The last time these sides played in mid-October, Morales had a goal and an assist in the 2-0 RSL win. For his career, he has two goals and four assists in seven games against FCD. Salt Lake forward Robbie Findley has also fared well against the Texas side with four goals in nine games.

Stat that makes you go “Hm”:

16: The number of goals combined between FCD forwards Jeff Cunningham and Milton Rodríguez. Only five of Cunningham’s 11 goals this season have come as a starter. Six of his last seven have come off the bench.

With Hyndman pondering a possible switch to the 4-4-2 for the first leg with Cunningham and Rodríguez paired together, getting production from both strikers will be crucial.