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Wild card or bye, RSL playoff path will be difficult either way
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lehi • There's an idea that has recently bubbled to the surface of Real Salt Lake fans' consciousness about the upcoming playoffs.

It's all about the easiest path — if there is one — RSL can take to the MLS Cup.

They want to look east, which is the direction Salt Lake traveled to win the cup in 2009.

"People are overthinking things," RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. "What are you going to say, if we go over to the [Eastern Conference], those teams aren't going to try hard and those aren't going to be tough games?

"We were the last seed going into the playoffs [in 2009] and we had Columbus going into the playoffs, I don't think any of us thought that was easier than playing somebody else."

And, as Grabavoy pointed out, to win the cup a team will have to eventually play the best anyway.

A victory Saturday night against Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium would lock up third place in the Western Conference and a date to begin the playoffs with second-place Seattle.

An RSL loss and a Dallas victory would push Real back into a wild-card game, which it would host. Then RSL, if it wins the one-game play-in, would take on the highest seed in the Eastern Conference, most likely either Sporting Kansas City or Philadelphia, tied at 48 points.

Columbus is lurking a point behind and Houston, coming off a victory, also has a mathematical chance of winning the East.

Compare those point totals with Western Conference teams Los Angeles Galaxy (67), Seattle (60) or even Dallas (52), currently tied with RSL, which is 0-4-1 in its past five games.

There's more at stake for RSL coach Jason Kreis, coming off a scoreless tie at Colorado.

"I don't think [the fans] would be incorrect in their assessment that that could be the case," Kreis said. "But it's never a certainty and we have to have a winning mentality. So … to go into the playoffs not winning one game in the last six would never be good enough. I don't like my chances at all, no matter which conference you're in."

That said, Real Salt Lake's record against the four teams in contention from the East would not build confidence. RSL is 2-4-2, with home victories coming against Kansas City and Philadelphia.

"So for me, we need to win, not only to claim third place and a very, very good chance at a CONCACAF berth, but we also need to win to get our attitudes right," Kreis said. "[We need to be] headed in the right direction going into the playoffs."

martyr@sltrib.com

Portland at RSL

P Saturday, 7 p.m.

MLS • It'll be tough, with a first-round bye or the wild-card spot.
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