As the L.A. Galaxy and Houston Dynamo battled it out Sunday, Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke cooked on his barbecue and spent time with the children, away from the room where the rest of his staff and their families watched the game. He listened to the screams after every goal, not able to bring himself to watch what transpired.
Only when it was over could Petke allow himself to fully realize what had happened: Real Salt Lake’s season wasn’t over yet.
With the Houston Dynamo winning 3-2 over the L.A. Galaxy on the road Sunday, RSL will make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. RSL had 49 points going into Sunday, and needed the Galaxy to either tie or lose to secure the sixth and final playoff berth.
RSL will face LAFC on the road in the knockout round on Thursday. LAFC finished third in the Western Conference with 57 points after its 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
“Fate intervened,” Petke said on the Sirius XM show Counter Attack after the game. "I think my players deserve to be in the playoffs so we are ecstatic.”
It appeared RSL’s playoff hopes were dead in the water in the first 30 minutes when the Galaxy took a 2-0 lead. When Petke learned of the score, he thought it wasn’t meant to be that this team would make the postseason, he said.
But Houston poured in three goals in the second half, giving RSL the result it wanted. Petke said he watched much of the second 45 minutes.
“I pried myself away from my office and into the TV room and watched a lot of the second half and it was a pretty damn exciting second half,” Petke said.
Once it became clear RSL made the playoffs, those associated with the team took to social media with their reactions. Even the Utah Royals celebrated online.
“We qualified for the playoffs," forward Jefferson Savarino wrote in Spanish on his official Instagram page. “Thanks to God, glory and honor to you, father. Let’s go team.”
Real entered the week preparing as though it was going to play in the knockout round. But several players expressed disappointment that they had to wait and see if the Dynamo would be able to win in L.A.
However, some of them took comfort in knowing that before Sunday, at least RSL was over the playoff line. That position made it possible for an upset, however unlikely, to happen.
After RSL’s last game of the season, a 3-0 road loss to the Portland Timbers, Kyle Beckerman told reporters that he was going to be "the biggest Houston Dynamo fans there’s ever been and we’ll be rooting them on and hopefully they can help us out.”
Houston definitely did that. RSL coach Mike Petke on Friday said the Galaxy would be the heavy favorites, but added that Dynamo head coach Wílmer Cabrera is good at his job and wanted to win.
“I think Houston is capable of getting a result for sure,” Petke said at the time.
Last season, RSL missed the playoffs by just one point.