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Real Salt Lake: Underdog RSL focused on avoiding another 2nd-place finish

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers doesn’t dwell often on RSL's past shortcomings in finals, but they’re also a constant source of motivation.

Losing to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final earlier this year was a major blow, a frustrating result quite similar to Real Salt Lake’s gut-wrenching loss to Monterrey in the Champions League final a few years earlier.

Memories of those matches and avoiding similar disappointment will certainly be on Borchers’ mind when he takes the field at Sporting Park this Saturday in Kansas City, Kan., for MLS Cup.

“We still have a big chip on our shoulder from the cups we’ve missed out on,” said Borchers.

Some of that frustration was shed with playoff series victories over Los Angeles and Portland this year, and RSL coach Jason Kreis believes lessons learned in previous failures played a role in those wins.

“I think we’ve already partially applied those the last three games. We’ll just continue on there. I don’t think we have a monkey on our back to prove any longer,” he said.

In many ways, RSL has nothing to lose this Saturday, because after all, 2013 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Plus, oddsmakers have made Sporting Kansas City a pretty noteworthy favorite, great news as always for Real Salt Lake.

In seven finals appearances over the past six years, the club has consistently gotten results as the underdog but rarely as a favorite.

“I think the underdog role suits us well. Sometimes we perform well without so much pressure on us,” said RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

The 'keeper was quick to add, however: “Not saying there’s not pressure on us because our fans and our club deserve another title. In the locker room we know that we have a very good opportunity to win this game against a very good opponent, and if we’re the underdog so be it. We’ll go out there with the same mentality as if we’re the favorite.”

If the visitors can steal the road victory, it would definitely help ease the pain and frustration of near misses in the past three years.

“I think it’s in the back of our heads a little bit. We get to the point of playing in these finals and that’s a great accomplishment in itself, but not winning some of these cups we’ve been in … it’s the back of my head going into these games,” said Rimando.

“Come Saturday you never know how many finals you’re going to be in, how many trophies you’re going to win in your career, so we’ve got to be prepared 'cause who knows if this is going to be your last, or who knows if there’s more to come. So we really have to take advantage on Saturday,” said Rimando.

Interestingly enough, Rimando’s goalkeeping counterpart will be taking the field with the same mindset.

Jimmy Nielsen, 36, last won a championship with Aalborg BK in the Danish Superliga in 1998-99, and at the time he figured many more would follow. He’s still searching for his next league title all these years later.

“Fifteen years ago I won my first championship, and I was pretty sure that it would be one out of many. Here, 15 years later, I’m still standing with one real championship,” said Nielsen. “I’m sure Saturday that I will appreciate the championship a lot more than I did 15 years ago, now I know how hard it is to win a championship.”