Things got a little crazy on deadline last night.
Entering Saturday night’s match at JELD-WEN Field, most everyone was under the impression that RSL could clinch its sixth-straight playoff berth with a win over the Portland Timbers.
Turns out, a draw was more than enough.
With Seattle’s 2-0 loss at FC Dallas and Colorado’s 3-2 win over Vancouver at home, RSL’s 0-0 draw at Portland ensured a point and another year of playoffs in Utah. The draw left RSL with a playoff berth due to tie-breakers held against San Jose. If the Earthquakes beat L.A. tonight, only the Galaxy or Seattle can catch RSL in terms of Western Conference seeding. If the Earthquakes don’t beat the Galaxy, San Jose can’t catch RSL.
As Matthew Doyle (@MLS_Analyst) put it: Any of the three can catch RSL, but not all three.
RSL is in.
Now to the match. And to Nick Rimando. In his 200th regular-season appearance for Real Salt Lake — the first player to ever eclipse the bicentennial mark in the franchise’s nine MLS seasons — Rimando came up with back-to-back saves in stoppage time. Former RSL midfielder Will Johnson drilled a 20-yard free kick over the RSL wall, and as most of you have seen, Rimando relayed the ball away.
Sal Zizzo flew in unmarked and delivered a point-blank header.
Rimando swatted it.
It was once again a tale of Rimando’s heroics that preserved a crucial point — one that delivered RSL yet another playoff berth — in a hostile environment.
If you’re giving out Man of the Match honors, it’s No. 18.
But that’s not to say Rimando was the only player who stood out against the Western Conference leaders.
With Javier Morales out due to yellow card accumulation, head coach Jason Kreis put Luis Gil in the typical Morales attacking role with Ned Grabavoy and Kyle Beckerman flanking the diamond formation.
While all three contributed quite well, I thought Yordany Alvarez was stellar in Beckerman’s holding role. Alvarez cut down several Portland chances and did not panic when looking up for potential counterattacks.
Some kudos also have to go to defender Lovel Palmer, who was tasked with trying to corral Portland star Darlington Nagbe throughout the evening. Palmer more than held in his own. You didn’t hear Nagbe’s name called all that often and Palmer made sure he didn’t give him any space to fire from distance.
I thought Robbie Findley’s work rate throughout the evening was essential. RSL was clearly looking to get him involved and he was in sync with the flow of the match. Both RSL and Portland own styles of play that allow an enjoyable band of soccer, but I thought that was the best RSL looked since Vancouver.
In eight meetings between the two clubs, RSL is 4-1-3 against Portland.
No comes a virtual must-win.
Wednesday’s match at home against Chivas USA will tell a tale of where RSL will be in terms of the uncomfortably-tight Western Conference playoff picture.
"A lot of people probably didn’t expect us to be in the position that we’re in now," Palmer said. "We’re confident in the work that we’ve been doing and the sky is the limit. I put nothing beyond this team. The way we fought tonight, that’s the way you win championships. You have to go into someone’s territory, hostile territory, like tonight, and grind it out and get a point.
"Now we go home, we get to play Chivas USA and take care of business at home."
Pretty spot on.
I’m interested to see what lineup Kreis trots out with a first-round bye on the line against the Goats. Captain Kyle Beckerman went 90 minutes in a 3-2 World Cup qualifying win over Panama on Tuesday and went 90 against the Timbers. With this much on the line, have to believe Beckerman will be in the XI.
Credit to Kreis for sticking to guns. He gave RSL a punishing training schedule during the recent FIFA break and said that players who have been in good form would have a chance to contribute. Look at Alvarez and Palmer as two prime examples.
The regular season ends in three days for Real Salt Lake.
Who will RSL face in the playoffs? Where will they be? Might not be sorted out for another week. Stay tuned.
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