RSL: Win not a guilty pleasure
Coach Jason Kreis knew that his Real Salt Lake players probably did not earn their historic playoff-clinching draw at Colorado, with the way they played on Saturday night.
But with the way they played all season, they more than deserved it.
"There's been a lot of points out there this season that we felt we deserved and we didn't get," Kreis said outside a raucous locker room at Dick's Sporting Goods Park near Denver. "For me, this was the first time, perhaps, the ball bounced our way."
Now, RSL will meet Chivas USA in the first round of the MLS Western Conference playoffs, in a matchup of teams that entered the league as expansion franchises together four seasons ago. The difference, of course, is that Chivas has reached the playoffs for the third time already, and has dominated RSL at home.
The teams will play two games, one on each team's home field, with the winner determined by goal differential, or aggregate scoring. The series opens at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
While RSL finished the regular season 10-10-10 and in third place, the Goats were just ahead with a 12-11-7 record. They will be forced to play without starting goalkeeper Dan Kennedy in the playoff opener, however, after he was ejected from their regular-season finale for running into Houston's Nate Jacqua in the penalty area.
Goalkeeper Zach Thornton is expected to start for Chivas, instead.
The 13-year veteran is a five-time all-star and former league goalkeeper of the year, but has not been a regular starter the past two seasons.
The Goats are, however, loaded with RSL castoffs who have made a difference.
Strikers Alecko Eskandarian and Atiba Harris have combined for three goals in two home victories over RSL this season, and defender Carey Talley is a starter on the back line. The Goats also feature Salt Lake City's Justin Braun, the former Skyline High School standout who has gone from being discovered in an amateur league to scoring four goals as a part-time starter for coach Preki.
But when striker Yura Movsisyan knocked home a rebound in the 90th minute for a stunning 1-1 draw against the Rapids in a make-or-break game, RSL gained its own measure of accomplishment by finally reaching the playoffs - a milestone achievement for a franchise once regarded as the embarrassment of the league.
"It was awesome," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "We just kept pushing. We kept believing."
CHIVAS USA AT REAL SALT LAKE
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Tickets for Saturday's game are on sale at http://www.RioTintoStadium.com or by calling (801) 924-8585. Tickets by phone will be available on extended hours today. Individual tickets to the home playoff match begin at just $20 per seat, while groups of 20 or more can purchase tickets at various discounted rates.