SANDY — October is crunch time for the MLS playoff push, and Real Salt Lake knows what is required.
A year ago it posted a 1-1-1 record in its final three games of the regular and missed the playoffs by one measly point. With three games remaining this season, RSL knows there’s still plenty of work ahead to qualify for the playoffs.
“It’s about winning your games now, ties aren’t going to be enough,” said Albert Rusnak.
A year ago two of RSL’s final three games were on the road — and it didn’t win either. This year it has the luxury of playing two of its final three games at Rio Tinto Stadium, beginning this Saturday against the Portland Timbers (KMYU, 7:30 p.m.). It’s a massive match with major playoff implications.
Portland sits in fourth place in the Western Conference two points ahead of sixth-place Real Salt Lake. Giving chase in seventh place is the streaking L.A. Galaxy, which is just two points behind RSL.
"It’s a big game this Saturday for sure, players know it, staff knows it,” said RSL coach Mike Petke. “It’s an opportunity for three points to keep us in the position, if not improve it.”
This is the first meeting this season between the West foes, but they’re about to become very familiar with each other as they meet twice in the final month. RSL’s final game of the regular is at Portland on Sunday, Oct. 21.
Both matches have massive playoff implications.
“It’s weird that we haven’t played against Portland all year until the last three games and then you play them twice,” said Rusnak. “I’m sure it will go all the way to the last game in Portland.”
Even though this weekend is the first meeting between the clubs, Petke said his team is well prepared for the task at hand.
“We’ve watched them plenty, we know how dangerous they are. They’re a very good team,” said Petke. “We’ve been working on specific things and areas we want to exploit them and areas we know they’re going to try and exploit us, and the players have really absorbed what we want to accomplish and now it’s going to be down to 90 minutes.”Comment on this story
Real Salt Lake might be catching Portland at the perfect time. Earlier this season Portland enjoyed a six-game winning streak that was part of a larger 15-game unbeaten streak (10-0-5). Lately, though, it’s been very average with a 3-2-2 record since Aug. 29.
Last weekend Portland was forced to settle for a 0-0 draw at home against FC Dallas. RSL, meanwhile, earned an important road point at Kansas City as it hung on for the 1-1 draw after leading 1-0 at the half.
A tie would be a good result for Portland this weekend, but not Real Salt Lake. It needs to maximize full points and can’t afford any more annoying ties at home like it has in the second half of the season against Colorado, San Jose and Minnesota.