Counting out Real Salt Lake is never a good thing. RSL is used to finding success as an underdog.
The Utah club defied expectations when it opened the MLS Cup Playoffs with an improbable 3-2 win over Los Angeles FC on Thursday. That propelled RSL into a showdown against No. 1 seed Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference semifinals.
The first leg of the two-leg series is on Sunday.
Kansas City likely will be the favorite. Still, the No. 6 seed will present a challenge to SKC. RSL went unbeaten in both regular season matches between the two rivals. They won 4-2 on July 4 and forced a 1-1 draw on Sept. 30.
Salt Lake has confidence it can compete with any team in the playoffs after knocking off an LAFC club that demolished it twice in the regular season.
"We deserved to be in the playoffs and, tonight, we proved it," Salt Lake coach Mike Petke told MLSsoccer.com after the win over LAFC on Thursday.
Salt Lake prevailed behind inspired play from Damir Kreilach on offense. Kreilach scored a pair of goals even though LAFC boasted a 21-4 advantage in total shots. His second goal, a crane kick volley, equalized the match in the 58th minute and set Los Angeles on its heels for the remainder of the match.
RSL finished off the No. 3 seed when Jefferson Savarino deflected a shot off Walter Zimmerman for the game winner in the 69th minute.
"The first goal boosted us and that second goal, even more," Petke told MLSsoccer.com. "What a beautifully taken goal that was from Damir. He's one of the biggest leaders of this team since he's been here, through his play, through his attitude."
Kansas City has won just one time in its last 12 regular season matches against Salt Lake dating back to 2014. Then again, SKC brings more than enough momentum into the series to reverse that trend.
SKC closed out the regular season on a five-game unbeaten run to secure the No. 1 seed. Daniel Salloi played a critical role in sparking that run with four goals in his last three games. Salloi finished with 11 goals and seven assists in the regular season.
Kansas City won the U.S. Open Cup a year ago. Now claiming the MLS Cup for the first time since 2013 is the next goal on the checklist.
"We want to win everything," Salloi told MLSSoccer.com. "Having this regular season is definitely a big help. This is confidence, it shows we're a strong team and can compete against any team, in any situation."
Salt Lake and Kansas City last met in the playoffs in the 2013 MLS Cup Final. SKC prevailed 7-6 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation and two overtime periods.