Western Conference Semifinal: FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake: Head-to-head breakdown

Who has the edge heading into leg 1 at Pizza Hut Park?
 

Kevin Hartman, who led the league with a .62 GAA, has been out since September 16. Dario Sala has since gone 2-2-3 with a 1.42 goals-allowed average. Hartman may be available, but whether or not head coach Schellas Hyndman will throw him back into the fire after so long remains to be seen.

GOALKEEPERS

Nick Rimando posted a league-high 14 shutouts this season and was second overall in wins. Since last season’s playoffs, Rimando has allowed just over a goal every two games. His performance in last year’s playoffs was heroic, and helped RSL to a title.

The backline has not gotten many minutes together recently, with starting centerbacks George John and Ugo Ihemelu spending time out injured and Heath Pearce suspended in the last game of the season. Still the defense allowed just 28 goals this season, third fewest in the league.

DEFENDERS

RSL allowed just 20 goals this season, an MLS record. They have also been consistent; the defensive unit did not allow more than two goals in any game during MLS play. Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave can control the air on defense as well as threaten on offensive set pieces.

Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez have combined to make FCD very dangerous down the left, while Atiba Harris and Jackson have held down the right. The width provided by the Hoops’ wingers is critical to their success as they try to spread out RSL’s diamond midfield.

MIDFIELDERS

Kyle Beckerman is one of the premier ball-winning midfielders in the league, and Javier Morales provides creativity and goal-scoring ability in the attacking role. Morales has been deadly on set pieces this year, and has nine assists on the year, while winger Ned Grabavoy has proven an able replacement for the injured Will Johnson.

Playing a withdrawn striker’s role, David Ferreira had the second most assists in the league in 2010. The beneficiaries have been Jeff Cunningham and Milton Rodriguez, who have combined for 16 goals. Ferreira's greatest strength is the ability to find space, even against an organized defense like RSL's.

FORWARDS

Saborío has 12 goals this season, and has terrorized defenses with his pace, size and aerial prowess. Sabo’s partner remains to be seen, but whether it’s Robbie Findley, Fabian Espindola or even Paulo Junior, RSL's striker corps can adapt to various situations with a multitude of set ups.

Hyndman led his team on an MLS record 19-game unbeaten streak, even in spite of injuries to key starters. The Hoops lost their final two games, but with all the side's injuries this year, Hyndman has shown an ability to mesh fresh players in with the regular starters.

COACH

A brutal 14-games-in-56-days stretch showed exactly how Jason Kreis has matured as a coach. He got his team through the gauntlet, winning their CCL group and taking the Supporters’ Shield chase down to the last day. And last year's run to the title proved he has championship quality.

With so many players having made a case for time during the recent rash of injuriesin the Hoops’ camp, Hyndman’s bench selection remains a mystery. Cunningham is second in MLS goals scored all-time, and will be used as a late game threat. But FCD's fill-ins have played well, giving this team a lot of options off the bench.

BENCH

Under Kreis’ system, every player knows their role, so there should be plenty of room for substitutions. With the likes of Grabavoy, Jean Alexandre, and the emerging Paulo Jr., RSL have more-than-competent reserves. 
An MLS record 19-game unbeaten streak showed FCD's quality, and their attacking style showed their mentality. But, after losing 2-0 to RSL two weeks ago, it remains to be seen if they can actually break down their opponents.

OVERALL

RSL are the champions. They have never lost on the road in the playoffs. They set an MLS record for fewest goals allowed in a season. In short, they showed why some consider them the best team in MLS.