Real Salt Lake missed out on a chance to clinch a playoff berth on Sunday afternoon in Portland, and now its once-promising playoff prospects are teetering on life support.
RSL still occupies the sixth and final playoff position from the Western Conference despite Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Portland, but its regular season is over. The rest of MLS, meanwhile, still has one more game remaining next Sunday.
And that’s why RSL’s playoff hopes look bleak.
Real Salt Lake ends the season on 49 points (14-13-7), but the L.A. Galaxy sit right behind on 48 points after Sunday’s 3-1 convincing win at Minnesota.
Led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored his 22nd goal on Sunday, the Galaxy can clinch a playoff berth with a win at home against the Houston Dynamo next weekend. A tie would see RSL through to the playoffs.
It’s hard to imagine Ibrahimovic not delivering.
If things unfold how everyone expects, it will be a disappointing end to the 2018 season for Real Salt Lake. It stumbled toward the finish line with a 1-3-2 record in its final six matches after the 6-2 thumping of the Galaxy on Sept. 1.
“Now it is what it is. It’s a one in a million chance that we get into the playoffs,” RSL coach Mike Petke said to KMYU after the match.
Real Salt Lake had a chance to render next weekend’s Galaxy match meaningless, but Portland keeper Steve Clark made sure that didn’t happen.
He came up with massive saves against Kyle Beckerman, Justen Glad and Albert Rusnak during a 16-minute stretch during the middle of the match to keep the lead at 1-0. Clark finished with five saves as Portland clinched its playoff berth.
The Timbers grabbed the lead just 15 minutes into the match following disappointing set piece defending from Marcelo Silva. On a free kick about 30 yards from goal, Portland’s Larrys Mabiala reacted quicker than Silva to Diego Valeri’s free kick and had the inside position to volley in a shot near the post for the 1-0 lead.
Beckerman nearly equalized in the 44th minute, but his powerful corner kick header was punched away by Clark.
RSL came out aggressively in the second half, but Clark recorded two big saves. In the 52nd minute, he made a reactionary save to push away a Glad close-range shot, and then in the 60th he blocked an Albert Rusnak powerful volley from the edge of the penalty area.5 comments on this story
“First half was to me a continuation of last time we played them and the second half we turned it on, had some clear-cut chances and couldn’t convert them,” Petke said, referencing Portland’s 4-1 win over RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium two weeks ago.
The Timbers effectively put the game out of reach in the 67th minute as Diego Chara stretched the lead to 2-0. With the visitors desperately pushing forward for goals late in the match, Sebastian Blanco iced the match in the 87th minute.
Petke made seven changes to the lineup from Real Salt Lake’s 4-1 win over the New England Revolution three days earlier. That fresh lineup played even with Portland for most of the match but simply couldn’t finish off its chances.