Real Salt Lake begins its 2011 MLS Cup run on Saturday when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Limping into the playoffs, Real Salt Lake finished the regular season winless in its final six contests, going 0-4-2 over that stretch. Its last win in MLS came on Sept. 21, a 3-1 defeat of Red Bull New York.
Real Salt Lake concluded its regular season in slightly disappointing fashion, conceding a late stoppage time goal to Mamadou Danso in a 1-1 home draw with the Portland Timbers.
"I don't think we've played a good [full game] of soccer in quite a while," defender Nat Borchers said. "I think we put together about 93 minutes against Portland and then we obviously gave that goal at the end. So I think really getting a full game in, being switched on and focused throughout is really crucial. In the playoffs, one goal can hurt you, so we're going to have to be prepared for anything that can happen."
The renewed partnership of Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman should bolster Real Salt Lake's strength in the center of midfield.
The duo has not played a match together since Morales suffered a broken leg in April. Morales has played in four games, all of which Beckerman was suspended for, since his return.
"In a lot of ways, up until the suspension, Kyle was our most consistent performer this year, and was in talks for MVP consideration and I think he deserved that," said RSL head coach Jason Kreis. "He had taken a lot of the burden of not having Javier on his own shoulders, and had stepped up his game in how he was creating for us, and his play on dead-ball situations."
While Real Salt Lake looks to be getting stronger, Seattle's squad may be getting a bit thinner.
Mauro Rosales suffered a knee injury in the Sounders' season finale against Chivas USA and is unlikely to be available for the first leg at Rio Tinto.
"We have to let it calm down and then we can see how it proceeds from there," said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. "For this weekend, it's probably iffy. For [the second leg on Nov. 2 in Seattle], we'll see."
Lamar Neagle seems to be the likely replacement for Rosales, but he says filling the injured midfielder's shoes is not an easy task.
"You can't really replace Rosales, but I can just do the same thing I have been doing all year with my work ethic," Neagle said. "I think that's the main thing I bring to the game. I'm not as technically sound as Rosales, obviously, but just working as hard as I can. I feel like I have some speed, so hopefully I'll be able to get in behind them and serve some good balls in and cause some trouble."
Seattle has impressed all year, finishing the regular season with the second- highest point total in MLS. Since the middle of June, the Sounders have not gone consecutive league games without a victory.
While that certainly bodes well for the Emerald City club over the two-legged affair, goalkeeper Kasey Keller is convinced that regular season success means nothing come playoff time.
"Everything goes out the window now," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller. "It doesn't matter what we did today, three months ago or at the beginning of the season. It's just two games now, and we have to come out and play the way we're capable of playing and we'll be all right."