The Real Salt Lake players milled around the field after a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City on Decision Day and applauded their fans.
The news had quickly circulated that the win Sunday hadn’t been enough for RSL to claim a playoff spot, but they stayed to show their appreciation anyway.
“I’m really proud of the foundation we started to build here in the second half of the season,“ captain Kyle Beckerman said. “I feel like we really have something to stand on for next year.”
RSL entered play Sunday a point behind San Jose and Dallas. With a win against Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake needed both teams to tie or lose to punch its ticket to the playoffs.
Neither did so. FC Dallas won 5-1 at home against the L.A. Galaxy, and the Earthquakes claimed a 3-2 home victory over Minnesota United and earned the final berth.
“We knew we had a handle on our business,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “The other games were out of our hands and just to really focus on us. [Coach] Mike [Petke] didn’t really have to tell us much before the game, he saw that everybody was ready to go and obviously the first half showed that we were ready.”
RSL didn’t waste any time grabbing a lead, going up 1-0 lead in the third minute.
Winger Brooks Lennon took the ball up the right side and passed it to midfielder Albert Rusnák in the center of the field.
Rusnák got tangled up with the ball at his feet and amid a struggle for possession with two Sporting Kansas City defenders, the ball squirted out in front of the goal. Rusnák threw his hands up in protest.
For moment, the ball bounced alone in space. Then RSL forward Luis Silva and SKC goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra broke for the ball. Silva beat Dykstra to it and tapped it into the back of the net.
Lennon doubled RSL’s lead in the 41st minute, set up by a series of passes involving the entire attacking four.
Up the left side, Rusnák played a pass to RSL winger Joao Plata’s feet, and he took a touch before finding Silva in front of the goal. Without a shot and surrounded by four SKC defenders, Silva dished the ball out to Lennon on the right side.
On his second touch Lennon shot a dart at Dykstra, who knocked it right back at him. With the goalkeeper out of position, Lennon planted his left foot and lined a shot into the top of the net.
RSL went into halftime with a 2-0 lead, but already the last playoff spot was slipping out of its grasp.
Dallas, which rallied from an L.A. goal in the second minute, had a 2-1 lead at the intermission. San Jose was tied 1-1 with Minnesota United.
Storylines <br> RSL’s win isn’t enough to clinch a playoff berth. <br> San Jose claims the final playoff spot <br> RSL holds on to two-goal first-half lead to end season with a win
RSL held onto a lead, allowing just one goal by Ike Opara in the 89th minute, but the Earthquakes grabbed an advantage of their own and Dallas kept tacking on goals. And there was nothing RSL could do about it anymore.
But the fact that Real Salt Lake was even in contention for a playoff spot was remarkable considering how poorly the first half had gone for the team.
Real Salt Lake hit the bottom of the table ahead of a 6-2 win at L.A. on July 4. From there it shot up the standings to become one of three teams fighting for the last available playoff spot Sunday.