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Soccer: RSL on verge of clinching playoff berth

Published September 20, 2011 2:24 pm

MLS • Team on a roll headed into games vs. Red Bulls, United.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Playoffs? Playoffs?

Yes, we are talking about playoffs.

There is a very real chance that by the time Real Salt Lake returns from its two-game road trip to New York and Washington this week, it will have clinched a place in the MLS Cup playoffs.

First, however, RSL must win in two places it has never won — starting Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls.

"Right now we're back to where we were at the beginning of the season," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "We're still lacking a bit of flow to our game."

Yet, four games ago, even speaking of wins away from Rio Tinto Stadium was almost like wishful thinking. Now, with a four-game win streak in its pocket, including a victory at Seattle, Salt Lake can look confidently toward New York and D.C. United on Saturday.

RSL (14-7-6), sitting in third place in the MLS Western Conference, can clinch a playoff berth with two wins. It can also do it with a victory and a tie or loss by Houston or Colorado. Two Portland losses will be enough, too.

The schedule hasn't made it easy on Real, which has to play five of its next six games on the road. Nine of RSL's final 13 regular-season games have been or will be on opposition turf.

RSL won its last two away contests despite being a man down for long stretches.

"We're scraping for points, we're blue collar and we're getting results," said RSL defender Nat Borchers, scorer of Real's winning goal Saturday against Sporting Kansas City. "It's good to know once we bring our best game we should be getting results a little bit easier."

The team's mood was brightened considerably with the news that midfielder Javier Morales will make this week's trip. He was due back onto the field by early October, but appears ahead of schedule.

Salt Lake's offense has missed Morales, a master of ball distribution. Defender Chris Wingert, who has been out since early August with a fractured wrist, also is close to returning to the field.

"Those guys bring so much to us," Borchers said. "Not just necessarily on the field but with their attitude in the locker room. They're so positive. So it's going to be fantastic to have them even training on the road and in the hotel."

RSL will be without Kyle Beckerman for the Red Bulls game. The RSL midfielder picked up his fifth yellow card of the season and is suspended for one game.

Still, confidence remains high.

"I really always believed this group had it in them," Kreis said about RSL's recent surge.

Kreis pointed to fatigue of playing so many games in the early part of the season, including CONCACAF Champions League matches, and a lack of attention to detail for RSL's midseason road flops.

"We're feeling good, but you can't let yourself get complacent," Wingert said. "We're hoping to get everybody back and healthy and hitting our stride before going into the playoffs."

martyr@sltrib.com

Twitter@RSLtribune.com

Real Salt Lake at New York Red Bulls

P Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

Wednesday, 6 p.m.

TV • KMYU 2.2 / Comcast 22 / Dish 12

Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM

Records • NYRB 7-6-15, RSL 14-7-6

Series record • 3-3-7

Last meeting • RSL 3-0 (Aug. 6)

About the Red Bulls • New York defeated Dallas 1-0 to end an eight-game winless streak. … Forward Thierry Henry is questionable with an Achilles tendon injury.

About RSL • Midfielder Kyle Beckerman will miss the game due to caution accumulation. … Victories at New York and D.C. United on Saturday would clinch an MLS Cup playoffs berth.