SANDY — Asked earlier this week whether or not their game Thursday night against the New England Revolution was a “must-win,” Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke and forward Corey Baird answered literally in the negative.
Baird specifically pointed out that life and death are not at stake (something he said Petke has said to the team), and mathematically speaking, the Claret and Cobalt wouldn’t be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss entering the regular-season finale on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Thursday’s game, the final regular-season contest at Rio Tinto Stadium, is pretty important for a side that is clinging to the sixth and final postseason spot in MLS’ Western Conference.
“After the last game, we said to the players, ‘We’re going to see what we’re made of now. It’s still in our control,’” Petke said earlier this week. ‘“We have a home game on Thursday, and we need to get three points. We need to take care of business.’”
Added Baird: “If we want to be a playoff team, these are the games we have to win. (It’s) a game at home...if we’re going to be in the playoffs, we’re going to be facing teams on the road probably, we’re going to be facing top teams in the league, so if we want to be that kind of team, which I know everyone wants to and I know we’re capable of it, we’ve got to be winning these games.”
Midfielder Damir Kreilach was more bold, calling Thursday “the most important game in the season for us.”
“This is the last game in the regular season in front of our fans in our stadium, and because of that, we have an advantage,” he added. “We want to use this against New England and we want to show a good performance for us and to make our fans happy.”
Although RSL hasn’t played since suffering its first home loss since March on Oct. 6 to the Portland Timbers because of an international break, it won’t be at full strength and could be quite far from it. Kyle Beckerman and Sunday Stephen will for sure be out due to suspension for yellow card accumulation, while Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino played for their home nations during the break.
“Obviously we have some guys that are getting in late, some guys suspended, but that’s why we have team depth,” Baird said. “That’s why there’s guys that are training all year long, working their butt off who don’t see the field much. This is their chance to step up. I think we’re very confident in the guys we’re going to put on the field, and I know they’re all looking to make an impression.”Comment on this story
RSL will be playing a New England team for the first and only time this year that has been eliminated from playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. Petke said he’s unsure if the Revolution will have already mailed in the season, or will be looking to play spoiler.
Petke suspects it’ll be the latter.
“Judging by their last game against Orlando, they’re pretty motivated,” Petke said, “and they’re a very high pressing, very strong counterattack team with very athletic players, so it’s going to be a difficult game for us.”