In its first two postseason appearances, Real Salt Lake gave itself a one-goal cushion with a playoff-opening home win. RSL doesn't have that going for it in 2010.
Needing to overcome a one-goal deficit in the finale of this two-game aggregate goal series, the defending MLS Cup champion tries to extend its home unbeaten streak to 26 on Saturday night when it faces FC Dallas, which needs only a tie to advance.
Salt Lake (15-5-11) posted 1-0 victories at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg in 2008 and '09. This year, it faces elimination after falling 2-1 at Pizza Hut Park in the Western Conference semifinal opener last Saturday.
Despite a goal from Fabian Espindola in the fifth minute, RSL had its 14-match unbeaten streak snapped on goals from substitutes Jeff Cunningham and Eric Avila in Dallas' first playoff game in three years.
Real Salt Lake's last loss was 2-0 at Dallas on July 17.
"I think that our team is at their absolute best when their backs are firmly against the wall, and now that's exactly where we are," RSL coach Jason Kreis told the team's official website.
RSL is also at its best at Rio Tinto, going 11-0-4 this season to extend its MLS-record unbeaten run to 17-0-8 dating to May 16, 2009.
"We want to get that taste out of our mouth from last week and looking forward to Rio Tinto and putting on a good show," defender Chris Wingert said.
In the teams' last matchup in Utah, RSL snapped Dallas' 19-match unbeaten streak -- the longest such run in a single season in MLS history -- with a 2-0 victory Oct. 16.
A tie away from advancing in the postseason for the first time since 1999, Dallas (13-4-14) will have to contend with the altitude of Rio Tinto, where it's been outscored 9-3 while going 0-3-0.
"I've played twice over there and haven't been able to get a result," said MLS MVP finalist David Ferreira, who has eight goals and a team-high 13 assists. "Hopefully this time will be different. We go in a goal ahead, so we need to play with their emotions because they're going to try to go in and try to score a goal. We're going to go in there and play smart."
Dallas will also be without forward Milton Rodriguez (groin), who was replaced by Cunningham in the 32nd minute. Coach Schellas Hyndman, though, has plenty of confidence in 18-year-old striker Ruben Luna, who made the 18-man roster for this match.
"Out of our academy players, he's probably the one that could step up the earliest," Hyndman told Dallas' official website. "... we'll see if he gets on the field."
Whoever does will face an RSL club that allowed a league record-low seven goals at home in the regular season and is anchored by defender of the year Jamison Olave.
FC Dallas leads the series with RSL 12-6-1.
The winner of this matchup will either host Seattle or visit Los Angeles in the conference championship match.