The teams that finished second and third in the MLS regular season meet in the early rounds of the playoffs, with Kreis uncomplimentary toward the postseason system.Either Real Salt Lake or Seattle Sounders FC will exit the playoffs after a two-legged tie.
"It's not often that you get second chances in this world, and it's even less often you get second chances in this game," RSL coach Jason Kreis says.
Still, the matchup is particularly brutal. Of the 10 teams that qualified for the postseason - over half the sides in Major League Soccer - Seattle and Salt Lake finished second and third, respectively, during the regular season.
A kink in the seeding process pits the two heavyweights - RSL won the 2009 MLS Cup; Seattle has won the past three U.S. Open Cups - against each other in the Western Conference semifinal, with the first leg on Saturday.
The situation is an anomaly of the new playoff system, implemented this season. Four teams in the West finished with more points than the top team in the East, Sporting Kansas City. That side of the bracket is joined by the New York Red Bulls, who boast the league's biggest wage budget.
"I don't agree with the system, but I also accept what it is and recognize that I don't get to make those decisions," Kreis said.
"I think you have to feel particularly aggrieved for Seattle, because after the season they've had, to have to turn around and play us rather than what should be a wild card team is I think a particularly poor place for them to be."
The two teams traded wins during the regular season, each team winning 2-1 away. Kreis thinks one of the keys to the upcoming match will be the center of the field, where U.S. international Kyle Beckerman and Cuban defector Osvaldo Alonso roam.
"Two guys that cover an extraordinary amount of ground and win balls for their team," Kreis said of the pair. "Two of the best, if not the two best best holding midfielders in the league."
Kreis hopes midfield schemer Javier Morales will be able to tip the midfield tide in RSL's favor. The Argentine playmaker missed the majority of the regular season with a broken leg, and when he returned Beckerman sat out three matches due to suspension. The duo doesn't have long to rediscover its chemistry.
"I think that both players are extremely important for us," Kreis said. "Neither one of them have played together I don't think since the very beginning of the season. That's not an ideal situation for us."
The other concern for Kreis is form. Real hasn't won in six matches (four defeats, two draws), crashed out early in the 2010 playoffs and lost the CONCACAF Champions League final. Both recent and knockout results haven't gone RSL's way lately.
Even though Seattle has never won a playoff match in franchise history, it enters the match as the favorite.
"The majority of people out there, the pundits, the writers, the fans, believe that Seattle's a better team than we are right now," Kreis admits.
But form and favorite tags count for nothing in the playoffs. There are no second chances.
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