How much does playoff experience count?
Real Salt Lake's disappointment Saturday was real, that's for sure. That was to be expected after a late Portland goal wiped away its best effort in more than a month, a period of time that produced four losses and two ties while the team was outscored 13-3.
But despite the 1-1 draw and a tottering finish to the regular season, RSL's players and coach Jason Kreis continued to look forward to Saturday's first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against Seattle with confidence.
"This team has been in the playoffs before," RSL midfielder Will Johnson said. "We know what we have to do. â¦ This is the time for big games, and it is time for us to step up.
"Hopefully the playoffs are a turn of a new leaf. We've got the guys who believe. Anything can happen."
Despite the poor stretch, RSL finished as the second best defensive team in MLS, allowing just 36 goals. And now it looks like the RSL defense has regained its teeth. The club has given up just one goal in its past two games, including a 0-0 tie at Colorado.
The offense created plenty of opportunities Saturday, but didn't cash in.
"I looked up at the clock after the first 15, 20 minutes and thought, 'I wish we had a goal for all this hard work that we've done,' " Kreis said. "Sometimes you need to reward yourself to feel that all the work you put into it was worth it, and if we [had gotten] one at that time, I think things would have gotten a bit easier for us."
The playoff opener will finally unveil the team RSL couldn't get on the field for months because of injury. Johnson missed the Colorado game after suffering a right ankle sprain while playing for Canada on Oct. 7.
"We have to work," said RSL midfielder Javier Morales, one of those players who missed extended time with injury and is finally healthy. "Now everyone is together. We have a week to work together for the next game."
Saturday's crowd of 20,378 was the third consecutive sellout at Rio Tinto Stadium and the seventh of the season. RSL wants more of the same as it prepares to enter the MLS Cup Playoffs.
RSL averaged 19,540 in its past seven home games.
"I truly, truly believe that we rely on our crowd," Kreis said. "It's a huge emotional lift for us when they're here early, when they're loud, when they're supportive as they were tonight, again. And we know our [playoff] opponent has a pretty decent crowd if it's going to be Seattle, so we need every edge we can get."
For the season, RSL averaged 17,591 fans per game, 10th in Major League Soccer.
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake
P Saturday • Seattle at Real Salt Lake, 8 p.m. TV • FOX Soccer