SANDY -- It's easy to look at Real Salt Lake's six-match winless streak at the end of the season and not be encouraged at the team's prospects as it opens up the 2011 edition of the Major League Soccer playoffs tonight.
Especially with its opponent, Seattle, carrying a 5-2-0 record and the league's second-best record into tonight's 8 p.m. kickoff of a two-leg Western Conference semifinal series, which will be televised live on Fox Soccer Channel.
Appearances, however, can be deceiving.
The Claret-and-Cobalt haven't fielded an entirely first-choice lineup in any of those six matches due to various injuries, call-ups and the three-match suspension of defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
In fact, only three of the six matches have been played with RSL approaching anything close to full strength.
In those three matches, Real is 0-1-2 and its only loss was after a late defensive gaffe against league-leader Los Angles on the road.
"I don't think we've played a good (full game) of soccer in quite a while," defender Nat Borchers said. "I think we put together about 93 minutes against Portland and then we obviously gave that goal at the end. So I think really getting a full game in, being switched on and focused throughout is really crucial. In the playoffs, one goal can hurt you, so we're going to have to be prepared for anything that can happen."
RSL and Seattle split the regular season series, oddly enough with each team winning on the road.
The Sounders staked out a 2-1 win on May 28, ending Real's MLS-record 29-match home unbeaten streak after scoring twice following a red card on central defender Jamison Olave in the second half.
The rematch on Sept. 10 at CenturyLink Field saw controversial red cards go against both teams and a missed penalty kick by Seattle, a shocking own goal by Sounders' goalkeeper Kasey Keller all in the first half, before things settled down and Real claimed the win on an Alvaro Saborio goal. That RSL win ended a nine-match unbeaten streak in all competitions for Seattle.
"It was up and down for sure, with injuries and call-ups," Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "We had our great streak, our worst streak, and I think right now we are almost where we want to be.
"We're getting some great players back just in time for the playoffs and all these streaks go away once you start the playoffs."
Tonight's match will mark the first time in 30 games (2,745 minutes) that Beckerman and fellow midfielder Javier Morales will be on the pitch at the same time, a stretch that started on May 7 when Morales was injured by the clumsy challenge of Chivas' Marco Mondaini.
RSL and Seattle have played six times since the Sounders joined the league in 2009, with the series evenly split at 2-2-2, and each side posting a 1-1-1 mark in their home matches.
The second leg of the series will be on Wednesday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.