Sandy • Skipping to the end of the story, one of Real Salt Lake’s most impressive wins of the Mike Petke era was not good enough Sunday afternoon.
RSL’s 2-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium failed to propel the team into the Major League Soccer playoffs. For 18 minutes, in two segments, scores around the league projected RSL into postseason play. But the necessary help did not fully materialize as San Jose rallied to edge Minnesota United and claim the Western Conference’s last spot. And even if the Earthquakes had lost, FC Dallas would have done so by defeating the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Afterward, Petke would say resignedly that his team “earned the right to be in the playoffs – and we’re not.”
RSL finished 13-15-6, going 8-3-4 since July 1 after a two-month adjustment to the new coach, who was hired in late March after Jeff Cassar was fired three games into the season. Petke’s work took hold slightly too late, mixed in with the missed opportunity of last weekend’s 1-0 loss at lowly Colorado. Even a tie would have been sufficient, as it turned out.
In any case, the MLS “Decision Day” format is a great invention, with every team concluding the regular season at roughly the same moment. Here’s how Sunday played out for RSL:
2:20 p.m. • Real kicks off with SKC, needing to win and have San Jose and Dallas both lose or tie. Or an RSL tie would require losses for the other playoff hopefuls. Either way, analytics give RSL an 11 percent chance of qualifying.
2:21 p.m. • Michael Ciani scores for Los Angeles against Dallas in Frisco, Texas.
2:22 p.m. • Luis Silva’s goal gives RSL a 1-0 lead. At the moment, Real is in the playoffs.
2:34 p.m. • Danny Hoesen alters the picture, scoring for San Jose.
2:55 p.m. • Jerome Thiesson scores for Minnesota to tie the game, and RSL is back into playoff position.
2:56 p.m. • Roland Lamahl pulls Dallas into a 1-1 tie with the Galaxy.
3 p.m. • Brooks Lennon’s goal gives RSL a 2-0 lead, just before halftime.
3:01 p.m. • RSL falls out of the playoff picture, thanks to Matt Hedges’ goal for Dallas.
3:30 p.m. • Lamahl scores again for Dallas, on the way toward a 5-1 victory.
3:31 p.m. • Early in the second half, Chris Wondolowski’s goal gives San Jose a 2-1 lead. San Jose’s qualifying for the playoffs would be more tolerable for RSL, as opposed to Dallas’ getting the spot amid controversy about a non-forfeit ruling (only a fine) for using an ineligible player.
3:56 p.m. • Francisco Calvo pulls Minnesota into a 2-2 tie with San Jose.
4:03 p.m. • Yura Movsisyan becomes an RSL substitute, nine years after his tying goal at Colorado sent Real into the playoffs for the first time.
4:05 p.m. • Ike Opara scores for Kansas City, partly spoiling another outstanding game for RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
4:09 p.m. • The game ends, Petke hugs RSL captain Kyle Beckerman and the players and coaches are told they’ve missed the playoffs. The scoreboard says, “See you in 2018.”
4:12 p.m. • Marco Urena scores for San Jose in stoppage time, sending the Earthquakes into the playoffs for the first time in five years.
4:25 p.m. • Having missed a chance to follow the example of the franchise’s 2009 MLS Cup champions, who posted a losing record in the regular season, Lennon labels RSL “a team that can go far. … Any team in MLS is worried with us.”
4:38 p.m. • Petke expresses pride in a team that went from last place to finishing one point out of sixth in the West, while wishing he had played more conservatively for some ties in the “dog days” of the season. But he also said, “I knew I wanted to instill exactly how we want to play.”
4:50 p.m. • Like Lennon, Rimando pictures RSL in the playoffs and says, “There’s a good chance that teams would fear us and we would go a long way.”
5:03 p.m. • Beckerman, joining Rimando as a franchise fixture whose contract is up, walks away feeling better about the team’s future than he did last October, when RSL made the playoffs and lost to the Galaxy.