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Originally published Monday, October 24, 2011 at 8:22 PM

Seattle, Real Salt Lake enter playoffs on different paths

Sounders FC has five wins in last six games, Salt Lake has zero, but Sounders still expect a tough match

Seattle Times staff reporter

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TUKWILA — Momentum can be a tricky thing to quantify.

But looking at the recent fortunes of Sounders FC and its upcoming playoff opponent, Real Salt Lake, it's not hard to see which team has it and which team doesn't.

In their last six MLS games, Seattle has five wins and RSL has none.

But will it matter once the Western Conference semifinals start? Sounders players and coaches don't think so. They're expecting nothing but the best from Salt Lake heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. road game, the first of a home-and-home series, at Rio Tinto Stadium.

"They know how to play and they know how to play as a group," said coach Sigi Schmid. "When you look at their lineup, it's basically a group that has played together for the last three years."

And won together.

Despite being the last team into the 2009 playoffs, RSL rose to ascendancy with a tremendous postseason run and captured its first MLS Cup in a championship match played, coincidentally, in Seattle. Led by the same core a couple of years later, coach Jason Kreis' side became the first MLS team to advance to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, where it narrowly lost to CF Monterrey of Mexico.

A slow finish to the regular season this year won't disguise championship-caliber quality. At 15-11-8, RSL still finished with the third-best record in MLS.

"When there's something major on the line, teams will show their true colors," said Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans, who has a goal and four assists in his last five games.

"They only had like 10 fewer points than us, so obviously they're a good squad. For us, we don't even look at form, because when it comes to playoff time it's a completely different (animal)."

If any team in the series is going to benefit from a fresh start, it's RSL — the only playoff team that hasn't won a game in October.

And for the Sounders, their 26 previous wins in MLS, CCL and the U.S. Open Cup — which equaled the 2000 Chicago Fire's league record for a season — won't mean anything in the conference semifinals.

"Everything goes out the window," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller after Saturday's 3-1 win at Chivas USA. "It doesn't matter what we did today. It doesn't matter what we did three months ago or at the beginning of the season.

"It's just two games and we have to come out and play the way we're capable of playing, get the ball to bounce our way a little bit and we'll be all right."

NOTES

• Kickoff time for Sounders FC's Nov. 2 home playoff game has been set for 7 p.m. at CenturyLink Field. Ticket sales for the game, which will be broadcast on ESPN2, have already hit the 33,000 mark.

Seattle currently plans on implementing its regular-season capacity of approximately 36,000.

"I have very few doubts that demand will be greater than the current, planned capacity," said general manager Adrian Hanauer, "and maybe that's an OK thing."

"I'm very comfortable with the idea that there's a big benefit to being a season-ticket holder, and that is that you get into the big important games."

Mauro Rosales had an MRI late Monday afternoon after injuring his right knee early in Saturday's game. Signs continue to be encouraging that it's not a major injury and Schmid said after Monday's practice that Rosales "was surprised a little bit about how much he was able to do."

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com

Saturday

Sounders FC @ Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m., FSC

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