Scoreboard-watching is a given at this point in the season, with five regular-season matches left for Real Salt Lake.
RSL liked what it saw over the weekend.
“All the results went our way over the weekend, fortunately,” right back Tony Beltran said.
RSL’s 3-2 loss at Vancouver on Saturday could have proved costly for the team’s standing in the Western Conference, but Real Salt Lake got help from the rest of the league to maintain its spot in eighth place, just two points out of the last playoff spot.
The three teams immediately above RSL — San Jose, Dallas and Houston — also lost over the weekend. Those results made RSL’s defeat less panic-inducing, but they also made the what-ifs more painful.
RSL (10-14-5, 35 points) would have jumped the line if it had seized three points in Vancouver. At 38 points, Real Salt Lake would have knocked FC Dallas out of the last playoff spot and slid between Vancouver and Houston into fifth place after tiebreakers. However, RSL has played 29 games, tied for most in the Western Conference. Dallas and Houston both have played 27, while Vancouver has played 26.
“We didn’t win the game, but the teams around us didn’t win as well,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “So we’re exactly in the same spot going into the Portland game as we were in Vancouver.”
Against Portland, unlike Vancouver, RSL plays at home with a road win against the Timbers already under its belt.
While most of RSL’s lineup essentially is set, Petke continues to mix up starters at left back and alongside Kyle Beckerman in the midfield.
Since Demar Phillips (hamstring) left RSL’s last game against Portland on July 19 due to injury, Chris Wingert and Danilo Acosta have shared time at left back.
“We have two completely opposite variables that they bring,” Petke said. “One [Wingert] is experienced, can read the game real well, and the other one [Acosta] is young, more athletic, quicker and rising with his talent. So depending on who we’re playing, that’s one of the positions that we tinker around with a little bit.”
Petke said he hopes Phillips will return in the next couple weeks, at which point he also will join the competition for that starting spot.
The other position that Petke tinkers with is holding mid. He has Sunday Stephen and Luke Mulholland both available to team up with Beckerman.
“Obviously with Sunny in there, it’s more defensive, but with Luke in there it’s more of an offensive thing,” Petke said. “And don’t get me wrong — Kyle and Sunny playing together as two defensive guys, one of them is always going to be offensive. But with Luke in there, you know he’s the one that’s going, and Kyle or Sunny is holding.”
Real Monarchs goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, who the team announced Monday had signed with RSL, is expected to remain with the Monarchs during their playoff run.
Real Salt Lake’s USL affiliate clinched a playoff berth Sept. 2 and leads the league with 56 points.
“I believe he’d only be with us if there was an injury situation,” Petke said about Sparrow, “but then starting in January he’ll be in the mix, and it’s what he makes of it.”