The atmosphere in Real Salt Lake’s locker room after its 2-1 win against Portland Saturday night surprised coach Mike Petke.

“I thought there was going to be a little bit more of a celebration,” he said. “Let’s put the word celebration in context, I don’t mean popping champagne and running around, but guys were happy. But I think a couple of them realized in the second half that we could have played a little better and they expect more of themselves, so I think it was a subdued excitement.”

Their reaction was mirrored in Petke, who entered his postgame press conference checking scores from around the league on his phone. The win lifted the RSL into sixth place in the Western Conference, but its businesslike attitude is one of a team that understands how little room for error it has.  

RSL has lost just two matches since the beginning of July, and it claimed three points Saturday against the No. 2 team in the Western Conference. Yet RSL (11-14-5, 38 points) just barely moved into a playoff spot.

Real Salt Lake is tied in points with Houston and Dallas, but the number-of-wins tiebreaker goes to RSL. It has played two more games than both Texas teams, making its current seeding precarious.

“We have been playing unbelievably, [some] of the best soccer in the whole league,” midfielder Albert Rusnák said of the second half of the season. “So we do have to make up for that bad start, and that is just by three points, and three points, and every week just trying to get the three points because we lost way too many games for what this team has and the kind of quality this team has, we lost way too many at the start of the season.” 

Saturday’s victory was crucial, and Petke said in training this week that all he cares about is winning. Soon after the hugs, handshakes and pats on the back were done, however, the Portland match became a set of lessons for RSL’s upcoming bout with Seattle.

RSL’s defense faltered to start the second half and let Portland midfielder Diego Valeri find a pocket and head home the equalizer in the 47th minute.

Then after going up 2-1 on Jefferson Savarino’s left-footed goal in the 61st minute, RSL put numbers behind the ball to defend its lead, but wasn’t able to expand it to two goals.

“We did well in our shape to deny them much, but I thought that where we lacked a little bit was the transition in the second half,” Petke said. “We had opportunities to go forward and to possess the ball to get them running a little bit and we went really direct at times. But listen, this is all nitpicky stuff. We have 2-1 win, we have three points.”

In addition to cleaning up some of those little things in training this week, RSL will gauge forward Luis Silva’s readiness for the next match. He left Saturday’s game in the 58th minute with a right groin injury.

“Bad enough where he had to come off the field,” Petke said. “… But we have seven days until the next game and we’ll see where he’s at.”