Of the four first-leg matches, only one did not end in a draw. Real Salt Lake beat Chivas USA 1-0 on Saturday and now heads to Home Depot Center with an advantage.
But will they be able to hold on to it?
History says... maybe.
I went back over the last three seasons to see how teams who won the first leg at home have done in the overall series. I only went back to '05 because that year the league went from 10 to 12 teams and I'm not sure if there was a different playoff system before then or whatever, but mostly because the number of teams.
Seven teams won at home in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. Of those teams, only three were able to pull off the upset.
- In 2005, the Galaxy beat San Jose 3-1 at Home Depot Center and left Spartan Stadium with a 1-1 draw and a 4-2 series win.
- In 2007, Kansas City beat Chivas USA 1-0 at home and left HDC with a scoreless draw and a ticket to the Western Conference finals.
- Also in 2007, Chicago beat DC United 1-0 at home and wound up winning the series on a 3-2 aggregate.
As for the teams who won the first leg at home but lost the series anyway...
- In 2005, the MetroStars beat New England 1-0 but lost at Gillette Stadium 3-1.
- In 2006, Chicago beat New England 1-0 at home but lost at Gillette Stadium on penalties after a 2-1 Revs win.
- Also in '06, Chivas beat Houston 2-1 at HDC but lost the series after a 2-0 Dynamo win.
-In 2007, FC Dallas beat Houston 1-0 at Pizza Hut Park but lost the series on a 4-2 aggregate.
Perhaps the one thing that is in common about the series deficits and teams' ability to overcome them is the experience factor. Houston and New England went down on the road in openers in consecutive seasons but they were experienced enough to know how to overcome that. Houston's experience came from San Jose's lack thereof. San Jose was a good team from 2001 through 2005 but in '05 they had to re-invent themselves a bit after losing Landon Donovan. It was a bit of a different team than the one that had won MLS Cup in '03. They lost the first leg, didn't know how to handle it and lost the series. After moving to Houston, the club recovered from first-leg losses just fine.
The teams that didn't recover were the aforementioned San Jose, Chivas and New England. Chivas hasn't won a playoff series and even though collectively they had players on that team who had - Paulo Nagamura, Jesse Marsch - they just did not know what it took to win a playoff series. Will they learn from their mistakes this season? We'll find out soon enough.
DC sort of throws off the theory a bit. DC had experienced playoff failure in 06 after having won the Eastern Conference. And they repeated history a year later.
In the end, though, it appears that RSL will have its work cut out in trying to escape with a series victory.