From Real Salt Lake’s perspective, every game from here on out will feel like a playoff game.
There are just four games left in RSL’s regular season, and the team sits in fourth place in the Western Conference playoff picture. Just three points separates Salt Lake from the Portland Timbers, who are in eighth place. If the playoffs started today, RSL would have a home game in the first round.
But with less and less bites of the apple available, RSL knows how vital each of the next four games is.
“Those four games — all four games — are important games,” RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez said. “Very important in their own way.”
Starting with Saturday’s road game against the New England Revolution, Real have three games in eight days, two of which are at home. Their final game is Oct. 6.
RSL’s last two games of the season are against the Houston Dynamo and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are 11th and 12th in the West, respectively. But the team isn’t letting itself get caught in the trap of overlooking a bottom feeding team.
“We’ve been second in the West,” forward Corey Baird said. “We know we’re a good team. So I think we’re confident going into every game we have, whether it’s against a playoff team or not. Teams are good in this league. No game is easy.”
The Revolution sit seventh in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The Revs are three points away from eight place, and five away from fourth. Although New England isn’t in its conference, RSL is coming into the game thinking it will be contentious.
“We want to win every game,” Beckerman said. “We’re going to try our hardest. But we know they are too. They’re fighting for their playoff lives, so it won’t be easy.”
RSL is also, in a away, fighting for its playoff life. Sure, the team was just in second place last weekend before the road loss to Minnesota United. But with the Western Conference table so tight, there are simply no guarantees that Salt Lake will stay in that high a position once the season ends.
“Because we were second doesn’t mean we’re going to [finish] in second,” Beckerman said. “We might have had to get into second just so we can get in the playoffs.”
While the team is, for the most part, relishing the playoff race, players are aware of the stakes that come with every game. Juarez acknowledged that, adding that even if players say they aren't aware, they are.
Baird seemed to reinforced that sentiment.
“Towards the end of the season, even though we’re not in playoffs yet, these games start to feel like playoff games where losses start to hurt a lot more [and] those wins feel a lot better,” Baird said. “You really see yourself moving up or down in the standings.”
Juarez is confident that, with two homes game remaining on their schedule, the team’s position allows for a little leeway. Ties aren’t a bad thing, he said.
Baird said the time of the season where there is ample opportunity to correct bad habits is over. Now, with so few games left before the playoffs, all that’s left for the team to do is “capitalizing on our chances and putting games away.”
“We are who we are right now,” Baird said.
RSL AT NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Kickoff » Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » RSL 4, Mew England 1 (Oct. 18, 2018)
Records » RSL 14-12-4 (46 points, 4th in West), MUFC 10-10-10 (40 points, 7th in East)
About New England » The Revs have played to four draws in their last six games. … New England has the least number of home wins among Eastern Conference playoff teams. … The Revs scored four goals in each of last two wins over RSL. … Three different players have scored five goals this season, while Carles Gil leads team with nine.
About RSL » Real have oscillated wins and losses in previous six games. … Midfielder Kelyn Rowe played first seven seasons of MLS career with New England. … Gave up a total of six goals in three most recent losses. … Albert Rusnák leads team with 10 goals. … Three different players have five assists.