Home-and-home debate a mixed bag for Real Salt Lake

RSL open at Rio Tinto again, eager to reverse 2010 fortunes

LEHI, Utah — There is a frequent debate this time of year about whether a team is better off to start a two-game aggregate playoff series at home or away. 

For Real Salt Lake, the answer is a bit unclear, although their playoff history has been favorable when they have started the playoff series in the friendlier confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.

In 2008, RSL made their first playoff appearance with a 1-0 victory at home against Chivas USA, and ultimately went on to win the series with a 3-2 aggregate score line. A year later, the Claret-and-Cobalt opened the playoffs at home with a 1-0 advantage against Columbus Crew and went on to take the series 4-2 on the march to their first MLS title.

RSL lost 2-1 at FC Dallas in the opening leg last season and only mustered a 1-1 draw at home, eliminating them from the postseason.

“It definitely helped us in 2009,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “It helped us in 2008. Last year we didn’t have it [and lost]. I don’t know if it’s a home field advantage to play away first, or home first, but this is the way it is. I enjoy playing at home first. You can get a head start on the series, but even if it’s at home it’s a long, long series.”

On a conference call with media on Wednesday, RSL head coach Jason Kreis expressed some ambivalence about this issue. RSL host the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals on Saturday (10 pm ET, FOX Soccer).

"I really don't know that I know the answer to that about who has the advantage,” he said. “I do think that the majority of coaches you would ask that exact same question, they would say, 'Well, we want to come home and play at home to know exactly what result we need to advance. On top of that, if we get ourselves into a strenuous situation and don't get the result handled in the first 90 minutes, then we get to play the overtime and possible shootout in front of our home fans.'"

“I don't know that necessarily I think that is the best thing for our team,” Kreis added, "but I do think ... that is what most teams and most coaches would want."

After a training session on Wednesday, Kreis expanded further on his thoughts about the home-and-away format for his team.

“I know that we’re a team that likes to be aggressive in our mindset, and so in a lot of ways that probably plays into us having the first game at home,” he said. “I think that’s going to allow us to be even more aggressive in our play and get off to a good start, and be on the front foot, and hopefully take a good result to Seattle.”

The downside to opening at home is that RSL — or any team, really — can ill-afford to go into the away leg with a deficit, although defender Nat Borchers didn't seem to worried about that prospect.

“I don’t think we can sit back against a team like Seattle,” he said. “I think we definitely want to get up a goal if we can, maybe two, but we have to see how the game plays out.  If we have to come back on Wednesday and get a result [in Seattle], that’s going to be just fine.”