There was a lot of good in the beginning (of the season), but we could’ve been a lot better. It caught up with us in the end —Nick Rimando
SANDY — Three months ago, Real Salt Lake’s playoff hopes were slim, but coach Mike Petke always believed his team could still get there. He pegged the magic number at 48 points, and figured if RSL got hot down the stretch, the magic number was attainable.
He was half right. Forty-eight points would’ve indeed been good enough to make the playoffs, but Real Salt Lake came painstakingly short in that pursuit.
Despite beating Kansas City 2-1 on Sunday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium in the final game of the regular season in front of 19,102 fans, Real Salt Lake didn’t get the help it needed around MLS to claim the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Both San Jose and FC Dallas won their final games on Sunday to finish ahead of RSL in the standings with 46 points. San Jose claimed the final playoff berth based on the first tiebreaker, which is wins.
RSL finishes the season with a 13-15-6 record (45 points), but one more point would’ve been good enough to qualify for the playoffs as it owned the tiebreaker over San Jose and Dallas.
“There was a lot of good in the beginning (of the season), but we could’ve been a lot better. It caught up with us in the end,” said Nick Rimando.
In coming oh so close, the what ifs of the season will haunt RSL heading into the offseason. The one that will sting the most is last weekend’s loss at Colorado. A tie against Colorado — the last-place team in the Western Conference — would’ve been good enough for RSL to control its own destiny heading into MLS Decision Day.
Instead it needed both San Jose and Dallas not to win on Sunday — but neither happened as it finished in eighth place in the Western Conference.
“Not making the playoffs hurts for sure because you want to give these fans, this organization a chance at winning another cup. We were a point shy this year and it makes you hungrier for next,” said Rimando.
Despite not getting the help it needed, Real Salt Lake emphatically took care of its own business on Sunday against Kansas City. Luis Silva scored his seventh goal of the season just three minutes into the match for the 1-0 lead, and then late in the first half Brooks Lennon doubled the advantage by knocking in his own rebound for the 2-0 lead.
“I thought the first half they did close to exactly what we wanted them to do. Early goal, pressure from the start,” said Petke. “Overall I couldn’t have asked more of them today.”
Silva finished the season tied for the team lead with seven goals along with Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan.
Kansas City still had plenty to play for on the final day of the season to try to earn a home playoff game later this week, and it pushed forward much more aggressively in the second half. Ike Opara pulled a goal back for Kansas City in the 88th minute, but RSL hunkered down the rest of the way to end the season on a five-game home winning streak.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys. They’ve earned the right to be in the playoffs and we’re not. Now it’s immediately starting tomorrow looking at preseason and next year,” said Petke.
The silver lining for RSL despite missing the playoffs is its performance over the final 14 games of the season. Its 8-3-3 record is the fourth-best record in MLS over that final stretch of the season, and points toward a promising 2018.
“It’s unfortunate in the end to not make it in the playoffs, but we did everything we can today, so we’re going to keep our heads high,” said Lennon. “It’s a shame that we can’t make the playoffs because I think we have a team that can go far.”