Cassar’s playoff debut
After seven years under Jason Kreis, Jeff Cassar took the reins at Real Salt Lake this year with tremendous success in the club’s opening 12 matches. After a 6-0-6 unbeaten run to start the year, Cassar proved his merits and led RSL to its seventh consecutive playoff berth and fifth straight season with at least 15 wins and 50 points.
On the opposing bench, Bruce Arena is the all-time winningest coach in MLS postseason history and has four MLS Cup titles to his credit. The three-time MLS Coach of the Year led the Galaxy to a sixth straight playoff berth in 2014 and also has five straight seasons with 15 wins and 50 points.
A fortress at Rio Tinto Stadium
Real Salt Lake finished 11-1-5 at home in the 2014 regular season, the lone defeat coming on June 7 against the Portland Timbers. Since then, RSL’s record at Rio Tinto Stadium is 8-0-2. That includes six straight victories in which RSL has outscored the opposition 16-3.
That success has proven to hold in the playoffs, too. Since ousting Chivas USA in the Western Conference semifinals in 2008, RSL has gone 5-2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the postseason and 4-0-0 when the first leg is at home. RSL went on to win every series in which they hosted the first match.
Since announcing his retirement in August, LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan has been showered with gifts at every stadium stop along the way. However, Salt Lake and LA had already played all three of their matches by that point, so Rio Tinto Stadium was one of the few stadiums that didn’t host a Donovan send-off.
On Saturday, there will be opportunities to wish Donovan well in his retirement and show appreciation for his accomplishments in MLS and with U.S. Soccer. However, once the match kicks off, those moments will be long gone and the fans will undoubtedly treat it like any other match between RSL and the LA Galaxy.
One of the wrinkles of the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs is that this year, for the first time, the first tie-breaker in the aggregate-goals series will be road goals. In previous years, matches would go straight to extra time, but this year if the series is tied, the team that scored the most goals on the road will advance. If the two teams are still tied, then the match will go to extra time and a shootout, if necessary.
This increased emphasis on road scoring is designed to encourage more attacking soccer. It is the same mechanism used in CONCACAF Champions League’s Knockout Round so RSL has plenty of experience in that type of series, having reached the Champions League final in 2010-2011.
With its regular season wrapped up on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake sat back on Saturday and watched the rest of the Western Conference battle for playoff positioning in a day full of excitement.
First, Seattle Sounders FC topped the LA Galaxy 2-0 at CenturyLink Field to claim the Supporters’ Shield and knock the Galaxy into the No. 2 seed. Then the Portland Timbers went on the road to top FC Dallas 2-0 at Toyota Stadium, putting RSL in the No. 3 seed, FC Dallas at No. 4 and, temporarily, the Timbers at No. 5. Then to close out the day, Vancouver Whitecaps FC sealed the fifth seed with a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at BC Place.
What this all means for RSL is a playoff clash with the LA Galaxy for the fourth time in the last six postseasons.
Here is a quick run-down of the previous three match-ups, starting in the 2009 MLS Cup Final.
Salt Lake and LA met for the MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (then called Qwest Field). With an MLS Cup record crowd of 46,011 in attendance, the two teams played toe-to-toe for 120 minutes without a victor determined. Mike Magee scored in the 41st minute to give the Galaxy a first-half lead, but RSL answered in the 64th minute with a goal from Robbie Findley.
In the shootout, both teams made their first two attempts and missed their third. Landon Donovan skied his effort in the fourth round and Ned Grabavoy converted his. However, Salt Lake could not find a match-winner until the seventh round. Nick Rimando saved Edson Buddle’s shot, his second save of the shootout, and Robbie Russell converted his to give the MLS Cup to Real Salt Lake.
After ousting Sounders FC 3-2 in the Western Conference semifinal, RSL went on the road to the Western Conference final to face the LA Galaxy, who won the Supporters’ Shield and topped the New York Red Bulls 3-1 in the semis.
With just one game determining the Conference champions, LA jumped out to an early lead with Donovan converting a penalty in the 23rd minute. Alvaro Saborio responded with a goal of his own in the 25th minute, but LA would storm back with two second-half goals from Magee and Robbie Keane to send the Galaxy to the MLS Cup Final, where it bested the Houston Dynamo 1-0.
Last year, the two teams met in the Western Conference semifinal over a two-legged series. It opened at the StubHub Center where Sean Franklin netted the only goal in the 48th minute. Going back to Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL evened the series on a 35th minute goal from Sebastian Velasquez, sending the series to extra time. There, Chris Schuler scored in the 103rd minute and RSL held on to advance to the Conference final.
With that deep-seeded rivalry in place, the matchup this year is bound to be dramatic.
The 2014 Western Conference Semifinal series starts on Saturday, Nov. 1, at Rio Tinto Stadium. For ticket information, visit http://bit.ly/12D6VER.
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jeff Cassar will have his eyes fixed on his television set on Saturday, taking in a weekend of MLS action that has potential for drama all across the Western Conference.
That will include a nationally televised tilt between Seattle Sounders FC and the LA Galaxy with the Supporters’ Shield on the line on Saturday at 12:30 pm MT (NBC), as well as the meeting between Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Colorado Rapids at 8 pm MT (MLS Live).
However, the most important match of the bunch for Cassar comes at 6:30 pm MT when FC Dallas hosts the Portland Timbers. While the other two Western Conference matchups hold entertainment value and will serve as good scouting tools for potential playoff opponents, the Dallas-Portland match will determine RSL’s playoff fate.
Currently in third place in the Western Conference, RSL needs Portland to win or draw in the match to remain in that position, avoiding the Knockout Round match, which would take place mid-week next week. If Dallas wins, Salt Lake would finish the season fourth in the West and host that Knockout Round match against Vancouver.
“I’ll definitely be in front of the TV. Scouting, preparing. I’m going to be preparing for two teams, Vancouver and Portland and then we’ll see where it goes from there,” Cassar told media after RSL’s 2-0 win over Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night. “It’s definitely not time to sit on the couch and relax. I’ll be taking notes and preparing. Not rooting for anything. I’m just going to prepare my team the best that I can.”
While Cassar has his team prepared for all-comers in the post-season, his players were unashamed to announce their allegiances in Saturday night’s match between Dallas and Portland.
When asked if he would be rooting for anyone in the weekend matches, RSL defender Chris Wingert had no hesitation in his answer.
“Well, Portland,” Wingert said. “I’d rather not have to play that extra game.”
If Portland is able to win or draw, RSL would host whoever finishes second in the West. If Sounders FC wins or draws against LA on Saturday, Salt Lake would host the Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinal. If LA wins, Seattle would travel to Rio Tinto Stadium for that series.
While Wingert played unabashed favorites in the Dallas-Portland match, he knows that either opponent would cause a stiff test for RSL.
“In terms of the Seattle-LA matchup, take your pick. I think either way it’s going to be an incredibly tough challenge for us. Not only are both great teams, but we have had great matchups with both teams in the playoffs multiple times,” Wingert said. “I think it would be a little bit fitting to be able to play LA, just because of Landon going out and the fact that between the two teams there have been so many finals and represented the West and stuff, but Seattle we had a great rivalry with too and we’re excited to play here or at their place.”
The Dallas-Portland match will be featured as the free stream of the week on MLS Live. To watch that match at 6:30 pm MT on Saturday, visit http://matchcenter.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2014-10-25-fc-dallas-vs-portland-timbers.
After so many goals and victories at Rio Tinto Stadium, players for Real Salt Lake turn to its ever-fervent crowd, celebrating their own accomplishments while also acknowledging the role played by the sell-out crowds in Sandy.
On Wednesday, that relationship between the club and its supporters will be formally celebrated on Fan Appreciation Night as RSL takes on Chivas USA in the regular season finale.
“They’ve been incredible. Our record has been very good at home this year and that’s a credit to our fans,” RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar said from the team’s training facility on Monday. “Without a doubt they give us energy and we wouldn’t be where we are without them, that’s for sure.”
Real holds the league’s third-best home record this season at 10-1-5, the lone defeat coming clear back in June against the Portland Timbers. With crowds reaching club-record heights, averaging 20,332 per game through the first 16 home matches, the players have taken notice and aim to reward that support against Chivas on Wednesday.
“The fans are really into it and they’ve supported us all the way through. Hopefully we can return the favor a little bit by having some success,” said RSL DF Chris Wingert, who is in his eight season with the Claret-and-Cobalt. “That’s the best way we know how is to give it our all and hopefully we can provide a couple home games for them here in the next month.”
There is a lot at stake in the final match of the 2014 season, with Real aiming to put itself into the third spot in the Western Conference playoffs, avoiding the Knockout Round match between the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams.
In addition to celebrating Fan Appreciation Night in the stadium, RSL will also be bringing the celebration to the fans all week through various appearances by club mascot Leo, who will be popping in on various locations around the city throughout the week.
Stay tuned to Twitter (@RealSaltLake) and Instagram (realsaltlake) for further updates and information on how to get RSL swag.
RSL needs a win in order for a chance to finish third in the west
Real Salt Lake slipped into fourth-place in the Western Conference this weekend after the Claret-and-Cobalt played Portland Timbers to a 0-0 draw on Friday and FC Dallas defeated Colorado Rapids 1-0 on Saturday. The Texas club now sits in third-place with one more point than RSL (54) and a 16-11-6 record. In order for the Claret-and-Cobalt to earn a third-place finish and avoid the Knockout Round, RSL will have to record a win on Wednesday and have FC Dallas draw or lose to Portland on Saturday. If both clubs end the season even on points, the Hoops have the advantage in the first tiebreaker with two more wins than RSL with only one match remaining in the regular season.
RSL 0-2-0 against Chivas USA in 2014
Real Salt Lake will be looking for its first win against Chivas USA this year, with the Claret-and-Cobalt losing in both of the clubs’ previous encounters. In their first meeting of the year on June 28 at StubHub Center, RSL went down to ten men in the ninth minute after midfielder Luke Mulholland saw straight red for a tackle on midfielder Martin Rivero, and could not overcome a 35th minute goal scored by forward Erick Torres. RSL suffered a similar fate when it faced the Red-and-White in California again on Oct. 5, falling 1-0 as the visitors for a second time. Chivas USA’s success against the Claret-and-Cobalt this year has been surprising as the SoCal club has struggled mightily, going 8-18-6 in 2014 and is currently tied for last place in the Western Conference with Colorado Rapids.
RSL has found some success at home against the Goats, going 6-3-3 against the Red-and-White in Utah. RSL is also currently riding a two-game win streak at home against the SoCal club.
Regular season finale
Wednesday’s clash with Chivas USA will be the Claret-and-Cobalt’s final regular season match of 2014, with the club looking to improve its final record at home. Real Salt Lake has gone 10-1-5 at Rio Tinto Stadium this year, recording just one loss to the Portland Timbers on June 7, and is one victory away from tying its all-time best of 11 home wins. With a win on Wednesday, RSL will break its all-time single-season points at home record with 38, surpassing the 2010 record of 37. Real Salt Lake is also four tallies away from breaking its single-season home goals record of 34 which was notched in 2009.
Final match v. Chivas USA
Real Salt Lake will likely play its fellow 2005 expansion team, Chivas USA, for the last time on Wednesday night, as the SoCal club seems destined to suspend operations in 2015. It has been reported that Chivas USA will remain closed for two years while it takes the time to find new owners and fully rebrand. The Goats have struggled mightily in recent years, and will now miss the playoffs for a fifth-straight season.
Real Salt Lake has gone 12-12-4 all-time against Chivas USA in the regular season, posting a 6-3-3 home record and 6-9-1 road record. The two clubs met once in the playoffs in 2008, with RSL winning the first leg 1-0 at home and drawing 2-2 on the road to advance to the Western Conference Championship, where it ultimately fell to New York Red Bulls.
The latest episode of the Emmy-Nominated MLS Insider series profiled Nick Rimando this week after the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper broke the all-time MLS record with his 113th career shutout against D.C. United on August 9. The feature dives into the highs and lows of Rimando’s storied career, from winning MLS Cup with D.C. United in 2004 to finding himself traded twice in two weeks prior to the 2007 season. His teammates, Head Coach Jeff Cassar and General Manager Garth Lagerway all talked about Rimando’s role with the club while Rimando and his wife discussed the behind-the-scenes story of how he landed with the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Real Salt Lake defenders Aaron Maund, Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert and midfielder Luke Mulholland are all profiled in the most recent issue of Salt Lake City’s Downtown Magazine. The four city-dwellers reflect on what it’s like living in downtown SLC and share some of their favorite things to do off the pitch.
Check out their profiles and pictures here: http://issuu.com/amcintyre/docs/downtownalliance2014/37
Real Salt Lake will have another chance to clinch a playoff berth tonight, as a Vancouver Whitecaps FC loss will secure RSL a spot in the postseason. The ‘Caps take on Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field at 8:00 p.m. MT. The match will be nationally broadcast on NBCSN.
So after tonight’s USA v. Ecuador match (5:00 p.m. MT, ESPN), make sure to catch the Cascadia Cup clash and hope Seattle and can take of business at home.
All RSL Playoff Scenarios
Real Salt Lake will clinch a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs IF
- Real Salt Lake win vs San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday
- Real Salt Lake tie vs San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday AND
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC tie vs. Seattle Sounders FC on Friday
- Vancouver Whitecaps FC lose vs. Seattle Sounders FC on Friday
Real Salt Lake will look to clinch a seventh-straight playoff berth on Saturday, when it hosts San Jose Earthquakes at 7:30 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Saturday’s contest will be the last regular season meeting between the two clubs this year, going 0-0-2 against San Jose in 2014. Real Salt Lake played the Quakes to a wild 3-3 draw on March 15 and a 1-1 tie on Aug. 30, both at Buck Shaw Stadium. In their last encounter, San Jose took an early lead in the 14th minute through MF Sam Cronin, but RSL was able to pull even in the 36th minute when RSL MF Javier Morales converted a PK to earn the road point.
Real Salt Lake will be without a few key starters on Saturday, as GK Nick Rimando, MF Luis Gil, and FWs Joao Plata and Alvaro Saborio are unavailable due to international call-ups. The Claret-and-Cobalt will also be without Morales who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Despite key absences, RSL will have a good chance to get a result on Saturday as San Jose is currently riding a 12-game winless streak in MLS action and is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
Ahead of this weekend’s clash, check out the Aug. 30 match highlights above.