Herriman • Throughout the week, members of Real Salt Lake expressed a tinge of disappointment after their 1-1 draw against Minnesota United. Disappointment that they couldn’t capitalize at home against an inferior team. Disappointment that they left two points on the table as they fight to maintain their position in the Western Conference playoff race. Disappointment that they had lost some of the bite in the attack that scored 12 goals in the previous two games.
But there was also a sense of confidence. RSL players and coaches say the most recent result was not indicative of the team they are and the team they can be. They believe they can beat any opponent.
That mentality will be tested in the final five games of the season, which include contests against three playoff teams: Atlanta United, Sporting Kansas City and Portland, which RSL will play twice. The other team on the schedule is New England, which currently sits at eighth in the East.
Right now, RSL would make the playoffs, sitting fifth in the West with 45 points going into Saturday’s game against Atlanta, which is 18-6-5 and the front-runner for the Supporters’ Shield. Portland is one spot above RSL with 47 points, while Seattle holds the final playoff spot with 44.
This final stretch will be key in settling whether RSL solidifies its playoff position or misses the postseason for the second consecutive year.
“Right now, we’re in control of our own destiny,” coach Mike Petke said after Tuesday’s training session. “It’s up to us.”
Three of RSL’s final five games are on the road, where they are just 3-9-2. And two of those games are against Atlanta and Sporting KC, which hold the pole positions in the East and West respectively.
Seattle has six games left, half of which are at home. But none of the opponents the Sounders will face is currently in the playoffs, and that team recently went on a nine-game winning streak.
Three of the final five games for the Portland Timbers are on the road, and they mostly face teams either already in the playoffs or on the outside looking in, like Vancouver.
But RSL’s players are doing their best to avoid scoreboard watching.
“We focus on what we do — the game at hand,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said Thursday via phone. “We can’t control any of the other games. But we can control the way we play, our fight, our commitment, our passion for the game at hand.”
Despite the tough road ahead, RSL likes the way it’s been playing. Midfielder Damir Kreilach said Thursday that the team should use its recent performances against Houston, Colorado and LA Galaxy as models for how it should play down the stretch.
“We are right now in a good position and we have to keep going,” Kreilach said. “We have so much self-confidence because, I mean, in the last nine games, we lost just one game. It means we are in good form.”
With so many moving parts in the West, anything can happen as the end of the season gets closer. But it appears RSL is more likely than not to make the playoffs. RSL currently has an 83 percent chance to do so, per FireThirtyEight.
“I think we’re in a good spot", Petke said, “and I think we can get to a great spot with these five games.”
REAL SALT LAKE AT ATLANTA UNITED
At Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Kickoff » Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL 13-6-10, Atlanta 18-6-5
About Atlanta » With 60 points, Atlanta is en route to winning the Supporters’ Shield. … Atlanta is on a two-game win streak, and won four of its last five games. … Overcame a deficit to beat San Jose 4-3 on Wednesday.
About RSL » After a draw against Minnesota, RSL sits in fifth place in the West at 45 points. … RSL is 3-9-2 on the road. … Damir Kreilach’s goal against Minnesota gave him 11, which now leads the team. …Winger Jefferson Savarino leads the team in assists with 10.