Real Salt Lake players lingered after training Saturday, playing various games in small groups. On that crisp, sunny morning, they laughed and soaked in what, depending on Sunday’s results, could be the last practice of the year.
“We don’t want the season to end,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. “We’re just having too much fun now.”
There’s only one playoff spot up for grabs Sunday , and RSL is one of three teams fighting to claim it. Real Salt Lake takes on rival Sporting Kansas City, which is playing for a potential knockout round bye, at Rio Tinto Stadium as every other match in the league is held simultaneously.
RSL enters Sunday one point behind both FC Dallas and San Jose. Dallas hosts the L.A. Galaxy, and San Jose hosts Minnesota United. If either FC Dallas or the Earthquakes win, RSL will be eliminated from playoff contention. RSL needs either a win and both Dallas and San Jose to lose or tie, or it needs to tie and have both Dallas and San Jose lose.
“It’s a must-win game,” winger Brooks Lennon said. “We’re going into it like that.”
RSL has made it into the playoffs under unlikely circumstances before. In 2009 Real Salt Lake needed the help of a stoppage-time equalizer by Sporting Kansas City against D.C. and a second-half comeback win by Seattle over Dallas to clinch a playoff berth. RSL went on to win the MLS Cup that year.
“It has a lot of similarities to 2009,” Beckerman said, “so yeah, we’re hoping for a repeat of 2009.”
While Sporting KC has established itself as a defensive powerhouse in the league, it has seen a dip in the past month. It enters Sunday’s match on a four-match winless streak. It also has stake in the outcome of Sunday’s match, with an outside chance of the second seed in the Western Conference and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“Kansas City is one of the best teams in the league,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “It will be a great challenge for us, and I’m hoping it will be a great game.”
“They will be motivated, but they won’t be under as much pressure as we will be,” midfielder Albert Rusnák said. “They’ve clinched a playoff spot. Regardless of whether you finish first or sixth, in the end you made the playoffs and then anything can happen.”
Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah.
Kickoff » 2 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL 12-15-6, SKC 12-8-13
Last meeting » RSL and SKC tied 1-1 (July 22, at Rio Tinto Stadium)
About Sporting KC » Clinched a playoff berth last weekend after a scoreless draw with Houston. … Could finish anywhere between second and fifth in the West, depending on Sunday’s results. … Forward Cameron Porter is out with a broken fibula and ligament damage in his right ankle. … Goalkeeper Tim Melia is sidelined with a hamstring injury.
About RSL » Still fighting for a playoff spot despite a loss to Colorado last week. … Marcelo Silva returns from suspension (red card) for the match. … Winger Jefferson Savarino is questionable with an ankle sprain sustained on Sept. 30. … Right back Tony Beltran is out with a knee injury he in last weekend’s match. ... RSL’s Jordan Allen, Omar Holness, Chad Barrett (knee surgeries) and Ricardo Velazco (ankle surgery) remain out for the season.