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Real Salt Lake: Draw could prove costly, but RSL has other concerns

Published October 18, 2012 4:19 pm

MLS • Points slipped away against 10-man Sounders, but focus is now on CONCACAF.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If Real Salt Lake winds up missing a chance to grab a Champions League spot or play the MLS Cup championship game at home, it won't have to look very far to find an opportunity it failed to seize that could have made a difference.

The team managed only a scoreless draw at Seattle on Wednesday night, despite playing with a man advantage for the final hour.

But despite coach Jason Kreis acknowledging that his team probably should have scored in that situation and earned two more crucial points in the Major League Soccer standings for a victory, he and his players were focused on the more immediate task of making sure it stayed in position for a top-three finish in the MLS Western Conference that would keep it out of the dreaded wild-card playoff game.

"One point was our baseline objective," he said.

Now, the team will turn its focus to the must-win game against Costa Rica's Herediano in the CONCACAF Champions League at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night.

It's the most important game of the season so far, and the future of the roster could hinge on whether RSL takes care of business to reach the tournament's knockout rounds next spring and earn a crucial salary-budget bonus from Major League Soccer.

"Everybody kind of knows what's on the line," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said after the game in Seattle, "for the club, the fans, the players in the locker room. When we stepped in here, the focus turned right away. So it's going to be an important game, a hard game. But I think some rest and a good couple days of training will get us ready."

The points it failed to steal against the Sounders could come back to haunt RSL, though, albeit in some fairly distant scenarios.

The MLS Cup title game will be played Dec. 1 at the home of the finalist with the most regular-season points, so RSL would want to have more than its potential title-game opponents from the Eastern Conference. It can finish with 59 if it beats Vancouver in its regular-season finale at home Oct. 27 — every other team involved still has two games left — while four of the five teams poised to make the playoffs from the Eastern Conference can now equal or exceed that.

Had RSL beaten the Sounders, it could have hoped to finish ahead of every team from the East.

Points could also determine whether RSL earns a place in the 2013-14 Champions League.

Four berths are available to MLS teams, and two of them will go to Sporting KC and San Jose for winning the U.S. Open Cup tournament and the Supporters Shield regular-season title, respectively. (Presuming San Jose doesn't fall apart in the last two games.)

The other two berths go to the MLS Cup finalists.

But if the finalists already have earned Champions League spots, as could be this case this year if Sporting KC and San Jose meet in the title game, the berths will be awarded to the next best teams, based on regular-season records.

In other words, RSL would want to finish at least third overall in case one of the berths becomes available this way, something that's not as easy as it might have been.

"We came here to try to win the game," midfielder Javier Morales said after the Seattle game.

"We tried to do it. … We tried to find the space. We worked hard to try to score a goal, but we couldn't do it."

mcl@sltrib.com

Twitter: @MCLTribune —

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