Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas tied for the fewest losses in MLS this season. Neither team, though, is playing its best as the postseason begins.
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Meeting for the first time in the playoffs – and the second time in two weeks – RSL begins its MLS Cup title defense Saturday against a Dallas team that’s dropped two straight following the league’s longest single-season unbeaten streak.
Real Salt Lake (15-4-11), denied its first Supporters’ Shield on Sunday with Dallas’ 2-1 loss in Los Angeles, opens the playoffs following a 2-all draw in Colorado last Saturday.
It took goals by Alvaro Saborio, who leads the club with 12, in the 90th minute and added time for RSL to extend its unbeaten stretch to 14.
"I’ve been involved in a lot of wild finishes, most of them when we were on the wrong end of the finish, but nothing like this," said coach Jason Kreis, who starred for the Dallas Burn from 1996-2004 before being traded to RSL.
Despite picking up a point in its regular-season finale and scoring a league-high 45 goals while setting a league record for the fewest allowed (20), RSL was not happy with its play leading up to its first-ever playoff opener on the road.
"We’re not satisfied with the way we played (in Colorado). We know we can play better," defender of the year finalist Nat Borchers told the league’s official website Tuesday. "In the training session today, everyone was sharp and focused. It’s playoff time now and it’s a whole different ball game."
While Real Salt Lake is 1-0-2 all-time on the road in the playoffs, it has never won in seven matches at Pizza Hut Park. RSL’s last loss was at Dallas, 2-0 on July 17 as its 10-game MLS unbeaten streak ended.
Coach Schellas Hyndman is hoping a return home, where FC Dallas is 7-0-2 since May 20, will help his club get back on track entering its first playoff appearance in three years. Before Sunday’s loss at Los Angeles, FC Dallas (12-4-14) had its 19-match unbeaten streak snapped with a 2-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake on Oct. 16.
RSL’s homefield dominance – 25 straight regular-season wins dating to May 16, 2009 – makes Saturday’s match even more critical for Dallas, which travels to Rio Tinto Stadium on Nov. 6 for the second leg of this aggregate-goal series.
With multiple goals allowed in five of its last seven games, FC Dallas is hoping goalkeeper Kevin Hartman will return after being sidelined since Sept. 16 with a strained right MCL.
If Hartman can’t go, Dario Sala will start for Dallas.
Nick Rimando, a finalist for goalkeeper of the year along with Hartman and Los Angeles’ Donovan Ricketts, will be between the posts for RSL. Rimando, who had two shutouts in last season’s run to the Cup, had 14 clean sheets this season – two shy of the league record.
He will face a pair of talented forwards in David Ferreira and Jeff Cunningham. Ferreira is an MVP finalist with eight goals and 13 assists, while Cunningham leads Dallas with 11 goals despite Hyndman favoring him coming off the bench.
Saborio could play a major role in this series for RSL, as could midfielder Javier Morales, who has two goals and four assists in seven career matches versus FC Dallas.