From here on out, for every playoff game remaining, one team will be eliminated. Momentum matters naught.
Neither of these teams lose easily. Real Salt Lake hasn't lost at home all season in a run that extends back 32 games in all competitions. RSL also has four injury-time equalizers this year, two scored by Alvaro Saborio.
FC Dallas went on an impressively resilient 19-match unbeaten streak, which covers nearly two-thirds of its regular season games. Back to the wall, neither of these sides will capitulate.
The crux of this game will lie in central midfield. Both teams keep the area congested, Salt Lake using its diamond's slick passing to advance and Dallas providing a platform for the little genius of David Ferreira.
Keep an eye on how well the respective destroyers, Kyle Beckerman and Daniel Hernandez, close down space and shut down counterattacks.
If neither team finds the rub of the green in the middle, cast your focus to Salt Lake's fullbacks. Robbie Russell (ankle sprain) and Chris Wingert (quadriceps strain) are both listed as probable; look for the least injured one to go with Tony Beltran on the opposite flank. Dallas' widemen will try to exploit any lingering fitness concerns or attacking forays on the counter on Rio Tinto's expansive pitch.
With these teams more adept than most at digging out results even when going behind, an early goal might mean less than in most series. That said, given the groin strain to Milton Rodriguez, Jeff Cunningham will start the match, eliminating the pace and energy mismatch he has thrived on when coming off the bench.
Should Salt Lake cope better with Cunningham's pace from the start, set pieces could decide the match. That column certainly favors RSL. Compared to FCD's two set piece goals this year, the Lakers boast seven (two direct, five indirect). Dallas' one corner goal is easily bested by Salt Lake's six. However, Dallas is better at winning penalties, scoring eight this year to RSL's three.
How will Andy Williams perform as the main playmaker in the absence of Javier Morales (suspended)?
Can Cunningham overtake Jaime Moreno for the all-time record of MLS goals scored (tied on 133 currently)?
Will Marvin Chavez and Brek Shea provide the same hustle Atiba Harris (suspended) does on the flanks?
If Alvaro Saborio (knee internal derangement, whatever that means) can't start, will Robbie Findley continue his impression of a guy whose finishing really should have precluded him from representing the United States in the World Cup?
Keeping in mind away goals have no bearing, will anyone on the East coast stay up if the game goes to 30 minutes of extra time or penalties?
The winner advances to play either Los Angeles or Seattle in the Western Conference final. The loser goes home and mopes.
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