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Frisco, Texas • Eight times over the years, Real Salt Lake has traveled to play FC Dallas, only to board the flight back home with exactly the same thing every time.

A loss.

Not once has the defending MLS Cup champion been able to defeat the Hoops on the road — haven't even managed a draw, and haven't scored in two years — adding a unique dimension to the opening game of their first-round Major League Soccer playoff series at Pizza Hut Park today. RSL needs to keep things close, at least, to feel confident about its chances in the return leg of the two-game series at home next weekend.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge, regardless of the fact that in our history we haven't gotten a win down there," defender Chris Wingert said. "I don't think that means anything right now. But just because they have a really good team, it's going to be tough."

Always has been, and the Hoops might be better now than ever.

While RSL nearly won the Supporters Shield regular-season championship with a 15-4-11 record and two double-digit unbeaten streaks, the Hoops — armed with former RSL striker Jeff Cunningham and league most valuable player finalist David Ferreira — finished 12-4-14 and built a 19-game unbeaten streak that ended only when RSL beat them 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium last month.

That was the first of back-to-back losses for the Hoops to close the regular season, and RSL similarly played perhaps its worst game of the year in its regular-season finale at Colorado last weekend.

"We got that one out of our system," midfielder Andy Williams said.

Knowing their history here, coaches and players have said they need their league-leading defense to be at its best today. The team allowed just 20 goals in the regular season — a league record — and doesn't want to let the Hoops score multiple goals, the way they have in every other Texas meeting. Coach Jason Kreis has gone so far as to hint strongly that RSL will play defensively, something he generally hates to do. Asked about the "conventional wisdom" of playing defensively on the road, he offered a wry smile.

"This may be one case where I'm conventional," he said.

The team actually tried that in its last game at FC Dallas, back on July 17, and it was working until about the hour mark, when Kreis changed formations to go for the win. The strategy backfired, and the speedy Hoops burned RSL for two goals in a 2-0 victory that snapped a 10-game unbeaten streak.

"We're going to have to go there and really defend well," defender Nat Borchers said. "We're going to have to sit back more than we usually do, and it's going to make things a lot tougher."

One thing RSL won't have to worry so much about is the weather.

Having played in the heat and humidity of mid-July in their last visit, the players are expecting temperatures in the mid-70's and low humidity at kickoff today.

"The sauna effect won't be the same," Borchers said.

Neither will RSL, it hopes.

Players said they need to put their ugly performance against Colorado behind them if they want to have a shot at repeating as champions at MLS Cup in Toronto next month.

"The magic's not over yet," Williams said. "It's been a great season, but if we get knocked out of the playoffs, it's nothing. So it's a brand-new season now, four more games to make it to Toronto."

Ninth time a charm?

RSL has lost every game it has played at FC Dallas:

April 23, 2005 • FC Dallas 3, RSL 0

Sept. 18, 2005 • FC Dallas 2, RSL 1

April 8, 2006 • FC Dallas 2, RSL 1

Sept. 23, 2006 • FC Dallas 2, RSL 1

May 20, 2007 • FC Dallas 2, RSL 1

May 24, 2008 • FC Dallas 2, RSL 1

Sept. 26, 2009 • FC Dallas 3, RSL 0

July 17, 2010 • FC Dallas 2, RSL 0 —

Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas

P At Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas

Kickoff • 3 p.m. TV • Fox Soccer Channel

Radio • 570 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM

Records • RSL 15-4-11, FC Dallas 12-4-14

All-time series • FC Dallas leads, 11-6-1

Last meeting • RSL, 2-0 (Oct. 16, 2010)

About RSL • It's riding a team-record 14-game league unbeaten streak, and has lost only once in its last 25 league games — at FC Dallas. … Forward Alvaro Saborio leads the team with 12 league goals, while forward Robbie Findley has four career goals against the Hoops. … Midfielder Will Johnson is questionable after straining his hamstring earlier in the week. … It was 4-4-7 on the road this season, and 15-1-1 when scoring first. … It never has allowed fewer than two goals at FC Dallas, and never scored more than one. … It's riding an 11-game win streak when leading at halftime.

About the Hoops • Making their first playoff appearance in three years, they have not advanced out of the first round since 1999. … Forward Jeff Cunningham led the team with 11 goals in the regular season — he has five in his career against RSL — while midfielder David Ferreira had eight goals and 13 assists. … They were 8-1-6 at home this season, and 12-1-6 when scoring first. … They have allowed multiple goals in five of their past seven games, but goalkeeper of the year candidate Kevin Hartman could return after missing six games with a knee injury.