We’re just having too much fun now, so hopefully the soccer gods are with us and we can get the win and the other things that we need to happen, happen. —Kyle Beckerman
SANDY — Twenty-two MLS teams held their final regular season practices this weekend, and 19 of those teams already know their fate next week.
Eleven of those teams have already clinched a playoff berth, and there will be more practices next week. For eight more, they’ve gradually been eliminated from the playoff chase over the past couple weeks, and the players knew Saturday was their final training session of 2017.
The last three teams are in limbo heading into Decision Day on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Only one playoff spot is unclaimed in the Western Conference heading into the final day of the season, and Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and San Jose are each in the running.
RSL needs a win and help to claim that final spot, but despite the long odds the mood ahead of Sunday’s match against visiting Kansas City was very upbeat.
“I don’t think anybody wants the season to end. We’re just having too much fun now, so hopefully the soccer gods are with us and we can get the win and the other things that we need to happen, happen,” said Kyle Beckerman.
Regardless of what happens Sunday, Beckerman acknowledged there’s a lot to be proud of with a meaningful match on the final day of the season — when such a possibility looked bleak at best back in early July.
“I feel like we built a lot of foundation this year to stand on for next year, a lot of things to be excited about. If you asked us after our Texas trip that we’d have a chance the last day of the season, I think we all would’ve taken it in a second. It took a lot of hard work to get there,” Beckerman said.
Real Salt Lake needs help to clear the final hurdle.
To clinch the final playoff spot, RSL must beat Kansas City and have both FC Dallas and San Jose lose or tie. All three teams are at home this weekend, with Dallas hosting Los Angeles and San Jose hosting Minnesota.
“Everybody’s excited. It’s a huge game tomorrow, that’s why you play, to play in big games. It’s been a playoff-like atmosphere for a few weeks now,” said Chris Wingert. “Hopefully we can continue it for a few more weeks.”
Jefferson Savarino’s status for the weekend is unclear. He’s been out since suffering a sprained ankle against Los Angeles on Sept. 30, but he practiced at virtually full strength on Saturday and could be an option for coach Mike Petke.
Without him in Colorado last weekend, RSL’s attack sputtered as it was shut out for the first time since Aug. 5. That loss could’ve eliminated RSL from the playoffs, but FC Dallas lost as well to keep hopes alive.
When RSL won the MLS Cup in 2009, it also lost its second-to-last game of the regular season and then needed an even more unlikely series of events to unfold to simply qualify for the playoffs.
“It has a lot of similarities to 2009. We lost our second-to-last game in Toronto and we felt for a couple hours that we were done, and then we found out we had a chance, and then it was just about going out — same thing as this week — go and prepare and get a win and then see all the results after,” Beckerman said.
And if Real Salt Lake beats Kansas City on Sunday but comes up short by one point in its playoff pursuit, the shoulda, coulda, woulda will surely haunt the team.
“Every single year we look back and say, ‘man, what about that game. Could we have won, or that game, could we have tied instead of lost?’ Every year, and it’s maybe even worse this year ’cause if we get that one point somewhere then we’re controlling our destiny,” Beckerman said.
For now though, all RSL can worry about is three points on Sunday.
“You have to enjoy the process. This is what it’s all about,” Wingert said. “It could’ve been over by now and we could be out of the playoffs like some teams.”