Defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake have a tall order ahead of Saturday’s first leg of their opening round playoff series against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park (5 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel).
RSL not only have to regroup from last weekend’s disappointing performance in Colorado, where they needed two stoppage-time goals to salvage a 2-2 tie, but they also have to overcome the fact that the team has lost every match it has ever played on the road at FC Dallas.
“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.”
For Borchers and Real Salt Lake, the eight-match winless streak in Dallas is more a product of the climate than it has been about on-field performances.
“We come down there usually in the summer months and we don’t deal with the heat and humidity and that really drains us when we play down there,” Borchers said about the past results in Dallas. “We’re excited at the opportunity to play [at FC Dallas] in October when it’s going to be much easier to deal with the weather conditions.”
However, of all eight matches RSL have played in Dallas in franchise history, only one was during the dog days of summer, the 2-0 blanking this past July. Salt Lake lost four times during the months of April and May and the other three on September dates.
The temperature on Saturday at Pizza Hut Park is expected to be 75 degrees, which is about 25 degrees warmer than it was in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. The wintry conditions in Utah, including snow flurries, forced RSL to move training to the University of Utah’s Spence Eccles Field House.
The indoor artificial turf meant that Jamison Olave and Alvaro Saborio only trained for half of Tuesday’s 90-minute session as a precaution for their lingering right knee issues. While they will be available on Saturday, midfielder Will Johnson is questionable after pulling out of training with a left hamstring strain.
Missing Johnson could prove a critical loss given that RSL are expecting to play more of a defensive game against an FC Dallas side that lost only four matches all season.
“We have to get back to our defensive game,” Borchers said. “We‘re not going to be able to be as aggressive [on Saturday] and we need to be able to sit back and absorb pressure.”
Added midfielder Andy Williams, “The key is not to concede any early goals. We’re going to sit back and we’re going to pick our moments to attack and make it difficult for them to get behind us. They have speed to burn and the less room they have to run, the better. It’s important that we can keep everything in front of us.”
Williams is not alarmed by the team’s form and he points to the fact that even when RSL haven't played well, they have still come away with points in recent matches.
“Good teams find ways to get points and get wins, and I think we’re a great team,” he said. “We’re all glad we got those bad games out of our system before the playoffs. If we went into Dallas like that [last weekend vs. Colorado], we would not have been too happy coming back to Salt Lake.”
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