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‘Win and we’re in’: Real Salt Lake has one last chance to claim a playoff berth

RSL needs a road victory over Sporting Kansas City to earn a spot in the postseason.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Andrew Brody (2) and Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera (22) defending San Jose Earthquakes forward Cade Cowell (44) as Real Salt Lake hosts San Jose Earthquakes, MLS Soccer in Sandy on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera has been replaying parts of this season in his mind, leads that slipped away, precious points lost.

Wednesday night’s 3-1 home defeat to the Portland Timbers is one of those games. A win would have guaranteed RSL’s place in the postseason. Instead, Herrera and his teammates enter the final weekend of the season with their playoff future undecided.

“It’s frustrating,” Herrera said Friday.

It’s also clear what needs to be done.

After all the ups and downs of the 2021 season — a year in ownership limbo, the midseason departure of coach Freddy Juarez, tactical changes, 13 wins, 14 losses and six draws — Real Salt Lake is still in control of its postseason destiny.

Beat Sporting Kansas City on the road Sunday, and RSL clinches a playoff berth.

“Win and we’re in,” RSL interim manager Pablo Mastroeni said.

Real Salt Lake has played Sporting Kansas City once this season, a 3-1 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium back on May 1. That game saw a goal from MLS All-Star Damir Kreilach and a brace from striker Rubio Rubin.

On Friday, Mastroeni said he would show his team the film from that victory, though how much it will mean after so much change remains to be seen.

“Hopefully that will spark confidence in the group, Mastroeni said. “It might deep down, but at this point in the season there’s so much emotional baggage that you carry as a team, and they have as a team, it’s not the same setup.”

To beat SKC, a team still looking to lock up with the top seed in MLS, Real Salt Lake will need to address the giveaways that have caught them out of position and hurt badly on the counterattack this season. Herrera predicted the team will play more conservatively in its regular-season finale than it has of late.

“We will definitely be playing a little safer for sure,” he said. “We know that getting a shutout gives us our best chance of winning the game.”

And RSL knows that chance is still there for the taking.

“It’s definitely good for us, knowing it’s still in our hands after everything,” Herrera said. “The fact that it’s still in our hands is massive. We’re going to go to KC and leave everything on the field to get those three points.”

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