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RSL both confident, wary

Published November 3, 2008 2:11 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SANDY - Real Salt Lake isn't safe yet, and it might as well be heading to a guillotine factory.

But RSL knows that dramatically beating Chivas USA in the final seconds of its first Major League Soccer playoff game put it in a promising position heading into the final leg of the series next weekend on the road. Win or draw, and the team will be headed to the MLS Western Conference final.

"It's a huge advantage, winning this game," midfielder Will Johnson said. "Now they have to train all week a goal down and we get to train all week a goal up. . . . We've seen how to beat Chivas. We just saw it. That's what we have to do again."

Thing is, that has never been easy.

Though it finally won on its last trip, RSL has a miserable 1-6-1 record against Chivas at the Home Depot Center, where the teams will meet for the final leg of the series on Saturday night. It has suffered some of its most disastrous losses to the Goats on the road, and knows they will come out hard, needing a victory to advance.

"We definitely know what we are up against," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "They're going to be desperate, coming out to get us."

The injury-riddled Goats could be a bit stronger, too.

Regular starting goalkeeper Dan Kennedy could return from a red-card suspension that kept him out of the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, though coach Preki said replacement Zach Thornton was "solid." At least a couple of the myriad Goats who have been sidelined with injuries conceivably could return, such as striker Atiba Harris and midfielder Claudio Suarez.

"Hopefully next weekend we'll get some guys back, get our regular lineup going, but there are no guarantees," Chivas midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. "The only thing we need to do is play our game, try to create as many chances as we can early on in the game against Salt Lake at home. That's all we can ask for."

Meanwhile, RSL was relishing a dominating performance, though it would have been cursing itself for not finishing any of the nearly two dozen shots it created - some of them nearly point-blank - had striker Yura Movsisyan not saved the day again with his stunning back-heel winner in the 90th minute.

"We learned we needed to relax a bit more," Beckerman said, "and that's what we're going to try to do there. Let's get on the ball, let's definitely go after them and definitely try to get a second [goal], but let's really just try to relax. It's all right. We got a goal, we don't need to score, but let's concentrate on playing good soccer and being relaxed. It will be all right. If they do get a goal, we know it's not over. We've come back before."

Even with a one-goal advantage, coach Jason Kreis was hardly prepared to announce a bunker-in strategy for the return leg, knowing that the Goats can force overtime and perhaps penalty kicks by simply winning by one goal. Besides, he just watched his team play one of its best and most aggressive games of the season.

"Right now, I think I'm going to say that we're going to err on the side of being offensive again," he said. "If we were up 2-0 or 3-0, we could certainly talk about changing that. But I do think this team has shown time and time and time again that we're a better team when we are aggressive."

mcl@sltrib.com

* RSL needs a win or a draw at Chivas on Saturday to advance to the MLS Western Conference final.

* If RSL loses by one goal to tie the two-game series, the teams will play overtime and take penalty kicks, if necessary, to determine the winner.

* If RSL loses by more than one goal, it will be eliminated.

RSL's history with Chivas

Year -- Score -- Record

2005 -- Chivas 1, RSL 0 -- 0-1-0

2005 -- Chivas 5, RSL 1 -- 0-2-0

2006 -- Chivas 3, RSL 0 -- 0-3-0

2006 -- Chivas 1, RSL 1 -- 0-3-1

2007 -- Chivas 4, RSL 0 -- 0-4-1

2007 -- Chivas 1, RSL 0 -- 0-5-1

2008 -- Chivas 3, RSL 1 -- 0-6-1

2008 -- RSL 1, Chivas 0 -- 1-6-1

Playoff schedule

Saturday

K.C. at Columbus, 5:30 p.m.

RSL at CD Chivas, 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 9

New York at Houston, 1 p.m.