In sports, you never hear fans chanting, "we're No. 3, we're No. 3."
That's particularly the case for Real Salt Lake, which came into the season with realistic aspirations of winning the MLS Supporter's Shield. given to the team with the best regular season record.
Circumstances certainly changed for RSL during the course of the season, and heading into the final two weeks of the season it would be tickled with a third-place finish.
"I had really wanted the Supporter's Shield. … Having known the difficulties we'd go through, if we finish in third place in the league I will feel very, very satisfied and feel like the players and all of us have stuck together through some incredible challenging times this year," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Nobody could've ever predicted that Javier Morales would miss five months with a broken ankle, that defensive midfielder Jean Alexandre would start six games at forward, that 17-year-old Luis Gil would be required to start 13 games, that Nat Borchers would be red-carded twice.
Despite all of the games lost due to injuries, national team call-ups and suspensions, and despite limping to the finish line with a four-game losing streak, RSL is still in great shape to finish with the third best record in MLS. With two games remaining, RSL holds a two-point lead over fourth-place Dallas and a five-point lead over fifth-place Colorado.
Its quest to lock up the No. 3 seed — and avoid a game in the wild card round — begins tonight when RSL hits the road to take on rival Colorado at Dick's Sporting Goods Park at 8:30 p.m., a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
"They're the champs for a reason, it's an incredibly difficult opponent for us. Should be an excellent, excellent confrontation for us and a chance to show some real response because our backs are against the wall. When your backs are against the wall it's time to claw, it's time to fight, it's time to show what we're all about," said Kreis.
Tonight is the first time since 2006 that Colorado and Real Salt Lake aren't meeting on the final weekend of the regular season.
Even though defender Nat Borchers admits it feels strange, there's just as much riding on the match as in years past.
"We've definitely enjoyed having that matchup as the last game of the season, but I think it's still one of the best rivalries in MLS. Their fans hate us, our fans hate them. It always provides for fantastic finishes," said Borchers.
Fantastic if you're an RSL fan, but a nightmare for Colorado fans.
RSL's record against the Rapids in the past four regular season finales is 2-0-2. Twice RSL clinched a playoff spot on the last day, while on three occasions it eliminated Colorado from postseason contention.
RSL has already clinched a playoff berth and Colorado is on verge of doing so, meaning the drama might not be the same as in year's past.
The real drama will be whether RSL can figure out how to win a soccer game again, which it will have to do without suspended midfielder Kyle Beckerman and injured midfielder Will Johnson.
"Hoping to right the ship and get in the right form as we head into the playoffs, hopefully this weekend," said defender Chris Wingert.
Defensive breakdowns have been the troublesome spot for Real Salt Lake as its been outscored 12-2 during its four game slide.
"It's definitely a tough stretch, I think we can all admit that. But it's definitely not a situation we can't fix," said Borchers, whose team needs four points over its last two matches to clinch the No. 3 seed.
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