Maybe Real Salt Lake won’t need 48 points for a playoff berth after all.
That’s the goal the team set after examining the field over the past five seasons. The last playoff team in the Western Conference tallied an average of about 48 points.
“We have a number circled with what we want to get to, but I have a feeling we’re not going to need to get there,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “But we’re going to have to string some wins together, especially a home game starting this Saturday.”
RSL sits at eighth in the West, five points behind the Vancouver Whitecaps (30 points) for the last playoff spot. Draws in its past two matches have kept Real Salt Lake in contention, but there still is a lot of ground to make up.
“Pressure is a good thing,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “If there’s pressure, that means there’s an opportunity.”
With just 11 matches to go, if RSL were to win all six of its remaining home games, it still would need to squeeze out five points on the road to hit 48.
Luckily for Real Salt Lake, it’s a tight race in the West.
Even just the past five years demonstrate a wide range of playoff standards.
The Whitecaps slipped into the playoffs in 2012 with just 43 points — to the dismay of the Columbus Crew, whose 52 points weren’t enough to earn them a berth in the East.
The Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City barely made the cut with 51 points in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
With teams currently above the cutoff line averaging as low as 1.35 points per game, RSL may benefit from a lower threshold.
That being said, two consecutive home draws did not help its cause. Real Salt Lake’s average points per game (1.09) tops only that of Minnesota United and the Colorado Rapids (1) through 23 matches.
Time is running out to climb the standings.
“We need to build the momentum again,” defender Tony Beltran said. “We let it get away from us a little bit obviously, not capitalizing, not getting a win in either game, but we have another home game. We should win our home game, and then now we’re confident on the road, so there’s momentum to build. We know what needs to be done to get in the playoffs.”
RSL came out of the break hot, logging its second consecutive road win for the first time in three years July 19 at Portland.
Back home at Rio Tinto Stadium, where Real Salt Lake is 4-4-3 this season, RSL dragged in the first minutes of each of its past two draws.
Whether it was a strenuous couple weeks of training and matches ahead of the Sporting Kansas City game, the early start against Columbus or some other factor, RSL didn’t come out with the same energy as it had to blow out the L.A. Galaxy and Portland Timbers.
After watching potential game-winners narrowly miss the net in the past two matches, Petke maintains that, despite some lethargy, his team did enough to win both.
“We’ve proven that our attack is pretty potent,” he said. “Combination play is strong, we’ve shored up the defense a bit and it comes down to not hitting the frame.”
RSL’s next test is a home game Saturday against a Houston Dynamo squad that, like RSL, is on a four-match unbeaten streak.