Sandy • Real Salt Lake had to wait until the last day of the season last year to find out whether it was in or out of the playoffs. It even needed a result to go its way.
But in 2019, a week before the season officially ends and with a game left to play, RSL can sit pretty. Salt Lake beat the Houston Dynamo 2-1 on Sunday in front of 18,117 at Rio Tinto Stadium to cement a postseason spot for the second consecutive season.
“There’s no pressure now,” forward Corey Baird said. “It’s nice that we control our own destiny there. You never want to have your fate in another team’s hands.”
Houston had to beat the L.A. Galaxy for RSL to sneak into the playoffs in 2018 as the sixth seed. Houston helped Salt Lake again this year by dropping a game that looked primed for a draw before forward Jefferson Savarino’s goal.
In the 75th minute, Savarino received a pass from Sebastian Saucedo near the top of the 18-yard box. Savarino took one touch and launched from angle. Moments after the attempt hit the back of the net, midfielder Everton Luiz leapt on Savarino’s back in celebration.
“Technically, Savarino’s very good,” interim coach Freddy Juarez said. “His first touch was everything.”
The game started like a dream sequence for RSL. Just 33 seconds into the game, Baird intercepted a ball at midfield and drove it all the way with little resistance. His goal became the second-fastest in club history, and the fastest at Rio Tinto Stadium.
But after that, the Dynamo took control the rest of the first half. They had an apparent goal called back due to an offside call, only for Tomás Martínez to score on a tough-angled shot for the 1-1 tie in the 32nd minute.
Baird said RSL got complacent after his goal because Houston was already eliminated from the playoffs and it felt like it could roll over the Dynamo at home. He added that the team addressed their performance in the first 45 minutes at halftime.
“I think we kind of took a look at ourselves,” Baird said. “That wasn’t the team that we are — 15 minutes to 45 in that [first] half. And we didn’t want them coming here and dominating the ball like they did.”
Juarez said he “didn’t celebrate at all” after the first goal because it came so early in the game. He was pleased with the team’s performance in the second half after a “lethargic” first 45.
“We started being better on the ball and the guys just got a little bit better,” Juarez said. “It got a little more dynamic, started being a little bit sharper on the attacks.”
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who played his final regular-season home game Sunday, said the team wasn’t sharp after its hot start.
“I think if we come out a little bit different and control the first half a little bit more, it would’ve been an easier day for us,” Rimando said. “I think we made it hard on ourselves the first half. But we rebounded the second half.”
That rebound gives RSL a chance to play the Vancouver Whitecaps next Sunday with only playoff positioning in mind as opposed to a playoff spot. As a reward, Juarez said, the team got Papa John’s pizza in the locker room after the game.
“It lets them just relax a little bit,” Juarez said. “My message to them is enjoy it. Enjoy every win.”
• Real Salt Lake secures a playoff berth.
• Jefferson Savarino puts away the game-winner in 75th minute.
• RSL’s Corey Baird scores in the first minute of the game.