During their run of four MLS Cup appearances in the past five seasons, the Seattle Sounders have been known to start slow and finish strong.
If they're to make it five out of six, they'll need to alter that formula.
The Sounders (17-8-9, 60 points), who will play host to Real Salt Lake (14-14-6, 48 points) on Tuesday night in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, began this season with a league-record 13-game unbeaten streak.
But Seattle failed to win in its final six regular-season games (0-3-3) to drop into second place in the conference.
Perhaps more concerning is that Raul Ruidiaz (left hamstring strain), who set a franchise record with 17 goals this season, MVP candidate Joao Paulo (right hamstring strain) and playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro (right knee inflammation) all missed the regular-season finale with injuries. All-Star defender Nouhou has been ruled out of Tuesday's match due to health and safety concerns after being on international duty with Cameroon's national team.
"Hopefully this little break has given us enough time to get some guys' injuries taken care of," Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. "We're excited for Tuesday."
RSL clinched the conference's seventh and final playoff berth with a 1-0 victory at Sporting Kansas City on decision day as Damir Kreilach scored in second-half stoppage time.
"Right now, we have more belief than ever. A game like the one in Kansas City really brings everyone at the club together," Kreilach, who scored a team-leading 16 goals, told SiriusXM FC's Counter Attack Radio. "We're going to carry all of that belief with us into Seattle."
RSL will need it, as the Sounders are riding a 15-match home winning streak in the postseason.
The teams split their two meetings in the regular season. Seattle won 2-1 at Lumen Field on June 23 when Ruidiaz converted a penalty kick in the 88th minute. RSL defeated the Sounders 1-0 on Sept. 18 in Sandy, Utah, on a goal by Kreilach.
The Sounders hold a 15-14-6 edge in the all-time series between the clubs.
--Field Level Media