Sandy • Will Johnson hung out next to his locker and sort of smiled in a way that oozed confidence. It wasn't a broad smile, it wasn't cocky, but an expression of gained knowledge.
"We've got a veteran group," the Real Salt Lake midfielder said moments after his team had put a 3-0 smackdown on the Seattle Sounders FC at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. "You can't teach experience. You can't buy it."
And just like that, as if a puff of smoke, the last two months of struggle, including six winless games to end the regular season, disappeared.
Two goals by Alvaro Saborio, two assists by Javier Morales and RSL leaves the first leg of the MLS Western Division semifinals in dominating position.
The two teams will meet once more, Wednesday in Seattle at 8 p.m. (MDT), for the right to play in the MLS semifinals Nov. 6. The team with the most goals will advance.
But the RSL locker room was not buzzing with celebration.
"We have 90 minutes in Seattle," Morales said. "It will be tough."
RSL applied relentless pressure throughout the match, the first time since May 7 that midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Morales were on the field together. Real resembled the team that opened the MLS season with four consecutive victories, before falling victim to injuries and suspensions.
"I speak more to having everybody on the field at the same time," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "I don't think we had the ability to [play] our absolute strongest lineup ever since the first leg of the [CONCACAF Champions League] final at Monterrey. That's quite a long time."
Since April 28.
"We're also cognizant of it being halftime," Kreis said. "We're going to need 90 more minutes of very committed soccer to make sure we advance to the second round."
Saturday wasn't all hearts and flowers, however, as defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers left the game early with a strained quad muscle and a strained knee, respectively.
Saborio scored his 12th goal of the season in the 41st minute, nudging the ball over the goal line with his toe after a great pass from Morales to Chris Wingert.
Wingert's shot may have gone in on its own had Saborio not tapped in it.
RSL's 1-0 lead was built on 61 percent possession that resulted in eight shots at goal. Seattle nearly equalized in extra time, but Alvaro Fernandez missed a point-blank header.
Saborio and Morales hooked up once again in the 53rd minute, with Saborio back heeling a shot past a befuddled Seattle keeper Kasey Keller, who kept the Sounders in the game with a series of athletic saves.
Then Ned Grabavoy, who came on as a late substitute, took advantage of a crazy bounce past a Seattle defender to score the third goal in the 88th minute.
"Javier found a little bit of his swagger again tonight," Kreis said. "That should bode very well for us."
Wednesday • New York 2, FC Dallas 0
Thursday • Colorado 1, Columbus 0
Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake
Saturday • Real Salt Lake 3, Seattle 0
Wednesday • Real Salt Lake at Seattle, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Los Angeles vs. New York
Sunday • Los Angeles at New York, 1 p.m.
Thursday • New York at Los Angeles, 9 p.m.
Sporting K.C. vs. Colorado
Sunday • Sporting Kansas City at Colorado, 5 p.m.
Wednesday • Colorado at Sporting Kansas City, 7 p.m.
Houston vs. Philadelphia
Sunday • Houston at Philadelphia, 5 p.m.
Thursday • Philadelphia at Houston, 6:30 p.m.
Conference championships • Sunday, Nov. 6, TBD
MLS Cup championship • Sunday, Nov. 20, at Carson, Calif., 7 p.m.