It wasn't necessarily easy, but both the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake have continued their solid late-season form into the playoffs.
Something, however, must give as each side looks for a fourth consecutive victory when they meet Wednesday night in the Western Conference semifinals at Seattle.
Seattle and RSL are two of the hottest teams in MLS at the moment, but winning a first-round home match took some effort for both of these clubs. Salt Lake needed a Jefferson Savarino go-ahead goal in the 87th minute to record a 2-1 victory over Portland in Saturday's postseason opener.
Things were even tougher for Seattle, which blew an early 2-0 lead, then a 3-2 advantage late and needed Jordan Morris to cap his hat trick with a bouncing header in the second leg of stoppage time to pull out a wild 4-3 victory over FC Dallas on Saturday. The grit Morris and Co. showed is generally what it takes to advance in the playoffs.
"We've got to keep pushing," Morris, who scored the winner in the 113th minute, told the Sounders' official website. "We know it's been a long season, a tough season, but there's only three games left to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
Morris has five career MLS playoff goals, but just one overall against Real Salt Lake in his career. However, the Sounders have won eight of the last nine meetings with RSL at Seattle, including 1-0 on April 6. Nicolas Lodeiro's goal in the 18th minute was all the Sounders needed to prevail.
Salt Lake did win the reverse fixture against the Sounders, 3-0 on Aug. 14, thanks to goals from Sam Johnson, Albert Rusnak and Corey Baird. Damir Kreilach, who also scored Saturday, recorded two assists in that match with Seattle.
Though RSL has not had much road success in Seattle of late, it did upset Los Angeles FC on the road in the 2018 MLS playoffs. So, the confidence to pull out a similar result should be there for a Salt Lake squad with nothing really to lose in terms of what is expected of it this week.
"(The Sounders will) be more aggressive because they're playing at home," interim RSL coach Freddy Juarez told the club's official website. "We hope that we can go and represent the club well. We went and did it at LAFC last year, and that's the mentality. We're going to Seattle looking to win the game."
Seattle and Salt Lake met in the conference semifinals in both 2011 and '12. RSL was victorious in 2011, while the Sounders returned the favor in 2012.
"It's going to be extremely tough," veteran Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "(The Sounders) have a really good team and a great environment out there in Seattle, so we know it's going to be tough, but we are looking forward to it."
The winner of this match advances to the West final, where it will face the survivor of the highly anticipated postseason version of "El Trafico" between LAFC and the Los Angeles Galaxy.