This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Carson, Calif. • It was five days after Real Salt Lake's landmark win of the season. RSL had topped the Colorado Rapids 2-1 at home on Aug. 26, bringing back the Rocky Mountain Cup to the Wasatch Front. RSL was in second place in the Western Conference with seven games to go.
There they were, back in that familiar light. For the better part of a decade, they were the perennial underdogs out West, and again, were raring for a late-season charge. RSL general manager Craig Waibel was asked about underdog tag so often associated with the club, it seemed obvious the franchise was set to contend for a top seed. Some players even voiced a charge toward the Supporter's Shield.
"I think even within our group, we're going to have different opinions on that," Waibel said. "Some guys love being the underdog."
That was before RSL hit the skids. That win over the Rapids is the last win RSL had. Since then, the team has gone 0-4-3, earning three points out of a possible 21. There have been two goals scored in the past six matches and questions as to how a front-line of three Designated Players have not managed a goal or assist since Sept. 7.
RSL is the underdog, alright. Just not as the surprisingly high seed with home-field advantage.
Against the No. 3-seeded L.A. Galaxy in Wednesday's first-round knockout match at the StubHub Center, No. 6 RSL enters the 2016 MLS Cup postseason tied as the coldest playoff club at the dance. RSL and the Philadelphia Union each tied an MLS record going winless in their last seven regular-season matches, but still making it to the postseason.
"This team used to get hot at the end of the year," said ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman. "This team used to be the team that nobody wanted to play at the end of the year. I'm not sure that's the case now."
And Twellman asked a pertinent question for RSL, preparing for its fifth playoff matchup all-time against L.A. and its band of superstars: "As a team, how can you be confident?"
The results disappeared over the past two months of the year. The goals did, too. Wednesday's match in Southern California marks two months to the day that RSL beat Colorado at home. But midfielder Luke Mulholland said his team must not view recent results or read into playoff seedings.
"I have the confidence in myself and the players in our squad to go to L.A., and get the result, so I'll take it," he said. "We'll view it as a second chance in a way for some of the hard work we put in this year."
Twellman said while the Galaxy remain favorites to beat RSL, L.A. hasn't been the typical steamroller it has been in recent years. The Galaxy give up chances in transition and will, at times, concede possession to opponents even at home. Forward Robbie Keane (hip flexor) is expected to go, and his partnership with midfielder Giovani dos Santos will be an early tell to the outcome of the match.
"Those two you need to keep in check," Twellman said. "With Kyle Beckerman's experience, and I think if Sunny [midfielder Sunday Stephen] starts, that's a good. You've got two guys that can always keep eyes on two players that want to drop into the midfield. That's a key."
Will that attacking groove that has escaped RSL in September and October be revived at StubHub Center? RSL coach Jeff Cassar inserted starters Yura Movsisyan, Burrito Martinez and Javier Morales into the second half of the 2-1 loss in Seattle on Sunday, which means they should be fresh for the midweek match. Joao Plata was taken off after 70 minutes, conserving some of what was left in his tank for the Galaxy.
"The positive thing with the team is we sticked together," Morales said. "I think everyone can see the fight on the field, we pushed hard even to the last minute. That was good for the team. I think it's going to be good to play against L.A. there."
Regardless of its continual dip in form, RSL would've entered this matchup as the underdogs against the Galaxy. It's now up to RSL to reverse course and catch L.A. and the league off-guard. The alternative is the winless streak extends to eight, and the offseason awaits.
Real Salt Lake at L.A. Galaxy
First-round knockout match
P At StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
Kickoff • Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • UniMas/KMYU
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 12-12-10, L.A. 12-6-16
Last meeting • RSL 3, L.A. 3 (Sept. 7 at Rio Tinto Stadium)
About RSL • Forward Yura Movsisyan (heel) is considered probable after playing eight minutes as a substitute in Sunday's 2-1 loss in Seattle. … Right back Tony Beltran (back) is questionable after missing the match in Seattle. … RSL has scored two goals in its last six regular-season matches. … RSL enters the postseason on a seven-game winless streak. … RSL is 2-3-1 all-time against the Galaxy in the postseason. … If RSL beats the Galaxy, it will face Supporter's Shield winners FC Dallas in the conference semifinals.
About L.A. • The Galaxy have scored eight goals in two matches against RSL in 2016 … L.A. scored five in its 5-2 win at StubHub Center on April 23. … Forward Robbie Keane (hip flexor) is likely to start against RSL. … Striker Gyasi Zardes (foot surgery) has returned to training, but is likely out for the playoff match against RSL. … The Galaxy gave up just 39 goals in 34 regular-season matches in 2016. … Giovani dos Santos had a breakout year in MLS with 12 goals and 14 assists. … Since his return to MLS in September, Landon Donovan has appeared in six matches.