The Western Conference’s final four was set on Wednesday night, with fourth-seed Seattle Sounders FC downing fifth-seed Colorado Rapids 2-0 at CenturyLink Field in the West’s Knockout Round to move to the Western Conference Semifinals against top-seed Portland Timbers.
The Seattle-Portland series will kick on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. MT at CenturyLink Field on NBC Sports Network. The winner of the Sounders-Timbers semifinal will take on the winner of the RSL-LA Western Conference Semifinal winner in the Western Conference Final series.
Real Salt Lake stacks up relatively well against the West’s remaining playoff teams this regular season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt registering a 4-3-2 combined league record – 5-3-2 in all competitions – against the Galaxy, Timbers and Sounders.
RSL was 1-2-0 against the Galaxy in the regular season. RSL and LA will play the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal at 7:00 p.m. MT at StubHub Center on Sunday night on ESPN. The sides will meet next Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7:00 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium for the series’ second leg – get your tickets today.
Everyone should have their eyes glued to their TVs this weekend as the MLS regular-season comes to a close with clubs still vying for playoff spots and the Supporters’ Shield. This weekend’s results hold major implications as to whether or not RSL will win the Supporters’ Shield or the Western Conference and who the Claret-and-Cobalt will face in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Real Salt Lake will be bystanders this weekend as the Claret-and-Cobalt finished its regular-season with Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Chivas USA. Wednesday’s win clinched a top-two West seed for RSL, meaning the Claret-and-Cobalt will play away in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Nov. 2 or Nov. 3 before returning home to Rio Tinto Stadium for the West Semi second leg on Nov. 6 or Nov. 7. Real Salt Lake could still play any of the West playoff teams of Portland, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC or Colorado Rapids in the West Semifinals.
RSL currently sits in first-place in the Supporters’ Shield race and Western Conference with a total of 56 points, 16 wins and 57 goals scored.
With so much at stake this weekend, here is a list of all the key matches that affect RSL and who you should be rooting for:
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
The Claret-and-Cobalt will need Sporting Kansas City to lose or draw at PPL Park in order for RSL’s Supporters’ Shield hopes to stay alive. Sporting Kansas City currently sits in second-place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 55 points, one point behind the New York Red Bulls. If Kansas City draws Philadelphia and ends up tied with RSL on points and wins, the Claret-and-Cobalt would place ahead based on the goals for tiebreaker, granted Kansas City doesn’t score 12 goals. The Philadelphia Union is facing a must-win situation in order to keep their postseason aspiration alive. This one’s easy: root for the Union.
Chivas USA vs. Portland Timbers – 8:30 p.m. MT on MLS Live
The Portland Timbers are the only team that can push RSL out of first-place in the Western Conference. A win for the Timbers at the StubHub Center would guarantee Caleb Porter’s squad first-place in the Western Conference and put an end to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s chance at the Supporters’ Shield. Portland currently has a total of 54 points, meaning a draw against Chivas USA would be enough to keep RSL first in the Western Conference. A Chivas USA win or draw might seem unlikely with their current record of 6-19-8, but everyone loves to root for the underdog. Let’s hope the Goats can end the season on a higher note and produce a result at home.
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire – 3:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. Real Salt Lake sits atop the league table narrowly leading New York by the goals for tiebreaker with 57 goals to New York’s 53. Any result by New York against Chicago will officially end the Claret-and-Cobalt’s run for the Supporters’ Shield. Chicago enters the match desperate for a win in order to keep its own playoff hopes alive. Pull for Mike Magee to keep his scoring form and work some magic at Red Bull Arena.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Colorado Rapids – 6:00 p.m. MT on MLS Live
This match won’t affect RSL’s standing in the Western Conference but it can affect who RSL will face in the Western Conference Semifinals. Colorado will need a draw or a win in order to officially clinch a playoff berth. If RSL finishes in first-place it will take on the winner of the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. If RSL finishes in second-place, it will face the third-place team in the West. If Colorado does earn a result at Vancouver, its playoff placement won’t be determined until after the final MLS regular-season game between Seattle and LA. Colorado would need a win and for LA and Seattle to draw in order to clinch third-place which would most likely mean a Rocky Mountain Cup semifinal series, assuming RSL finishes in second-place. A RSL vs. Colorado playoff game would be the first of its kind. Who to root for? Follow your heart.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
The final match of the MLS regular-season will definitely be an entertaining one with the former MLS champions taking on Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders FC. Seattle is suffering an epic blowout to end its regular-season, losing its last four matches by a combined margin of 12-2. Despite Seattle’s recent run of poor form, they have already clinched a playoff berth. This match will determine whether or not Seattle or LA will avoid the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. LA and Seattle will want to grab as many points as possible to put as much room between them and the red line. Who to root against? Both.
Every member of the RSL family will have their sights set on Portland this weekend, with the Claret-and-Cobalt set to take on the Timbers in a huge match at JELD-WEN Field at 8:30 p.m. on CW30 on Saturday night.
While Portland is the center of the Real Salt Lake – and, frankly, MLS – universe this weekend, there are plenty of other matches around the league that will affect RSL’s place in the standings. We’ve listed those matches below, along with some info on who you should be pulling for.
Sporting Kansas City v. D.C. United – 6:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
This might be a tad difficult in the wake of D.C.’s win over RSL in the Open Cup Final on Oct. 1, but Claret-and-Cobalt fans should be rooting for United to pull the upset at Sporting Park on Friday night. Kansas City and RSL have identical records, with the Claret-and-Cobalt leading SKC in the Supporters’ Shield standings by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker. A little breathing room couldn’t hurt, however – pull for Ben Olsen’s squad.
FC Dallas v. Seattle Sounders FC – 12:30 p.m. MT on NBC
All those games in hand didn’t go exactly to plan for Seattle, which has lost its last three matches by a combined margin of 10-2. Despite the recent run of poor for, the Sounders are still just one point behind RSL in the standings, sitting in fourth-place in the Western Conference. Pull for Dallas – which announced on Friday that Head Coach Schellas Hyndman won’t return to his post in 2014 – in this nationally televised contest in Frisco.
Colorado Rapids v. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 4:00 p.m. MT on Altitude
Pretty simple calculus in this one. Do what you do so well, RSL fans: Root against the Rapids. A Colorado loss or tie would lock up a playoff spot for RSL. Pull for the ‘Caps to get a result on the road.
Houston Dynamo v. New York Red Bulls – 2:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference race, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. New York currently sits atop the league table with 53 points, ahead of Portland by virtue of the wins tiebreaker. If RSL is to have any hope of lifting the Supporters’ Shield this season, the Red Bulls will have to lose or tie one of their final two matches. Both are tough – New York finishes the season at home against what will be a desperate Chicago side – but Houston is a notoriously difficult place to play. Pull for the Dynamo to take all three at BBVA Compass Stadium.
LA Galaxy v. San Jose Earthquakes – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
With San Jose effectively unable to pass the Claret-and-Cobalt in the West standings, pull for the Quakes to topple the Galaxy at the StubHub Center on Sunday. LA is inching up on RSL – just one point behind heading into the weekend – and it would be good for the Utah side if Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Co. dropped points to their California rival.
Make sure to tune-in to all of these matches this weekend. All five will be available to watch in Utah, with four on national TV and the fifth – Colorado v. Vancouver – on the Altitude network.
Best of all is that none of the above games conflict with the main event: RSL at Portland. 8:30 p.m. MT. CW30 and MLSsoccer.com as the Stream of the Week.
Real Salt Lake’s Supporters’ Shield and Western Conference hopes got a big boost on Wednesday night, with West rivals Seattle losing to Vancouver, Colorado falling at San Jose and Supporters’ Shield foe Kansas City drawing at Houston to keep the Claret-and-Cobalt in the thick of both races.
Vancouver did RSL a major solid by beating Seattle 4-1, with 18-year-old forward Kekuta Manneh notching a hat trick to help the ‘Caps stun the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The result keeps RSL in first in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which now has only one game in hand on the Claret-and-Cobalt. The Sounders will make up that match on Sunday, when they’ll take on Cascadia rival Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 10, 2013
While San Jose’s win over Colorado prevented RSL from securing a sixth-straight playoff berth on Wednesday night, the result was still pretty good for Jason Kreis and Co. The Rapids loss keeps Colorado – which is four points behind RSL – off of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s back, making the prospect of securing an all-important top-three seed in the West that much easier.
RSL would’ve preferred a Houston win over Kansas City, but Wednesday’s scoreless draw between the two sides at BBVA Compass Stadium isn’t all bad. Hard-charging Sporting is now dead even with RSL, with both sides posting a 15-10-7 record through 32 games.
Here’s how the big picture looks for RSL following Wednesday’s games:
- RSL needs two points from its two remaining matches (i.e., one win or two draws) to clinch a playoff spot. A San Jose loss or tie or a Colorado loss in either of those clubs' two remaining matches would also lock up a playoff berth for the Claret-and-Cobalt. RSL’s next chance to clinch a playoff berth will come on Oct. 19, when a win at Portland would secure a postseason spot for the club.
- With 52 points through 32 games, the Claret-and-Cobalt sits in first-place in the West, one point ahead of Seattle, which has a game in hand on the Utah side.
- RSL is tied with Sporting Kansas City for second-place in the Supporters’ Shield standings, one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the top spot. RSL, SKC and New York have all played 32 games, while Seattle and Portland – which are two and three points behind New York, respectively – have both played 31 games.
- Real Salt Lake is tied for third with Kansas City in the points per game standings. New York leads the league with 1.66 points per game, Seattle is in second with 1.65 and RSL and SKC are in third with 1.63.
- Pending results in Sunday’s Portland-Seattle contest and LA’s home game against Montreal on Oct. 16, RSL could potentially clinch a top-two seed in the West with a win at Portland on Oct. 19.
It’s setting up to be a wild last month. Buckle up.
The team isn’t playing, but Wednesday night is going to be huge for Real Salt Lake.
Two games with massive implications for the Claret-and-Cobalt will take place tomorrow night, with Seattle hosting Vancouver at CenturyLink Field (8:00 p.m. MT; MLS Live) and San Jose hosting Colorado at Buck Shaw Stadium (8:30 p.m. MT; MLS Live).
RSL could clinch a postseason berth pending the result of the San Jose-Colorado match, with a Rapids win or tie in the Bay Area securing the Claret-and-Cobalt’s sixth-straight MLS Cup Playoff appearance. Of course, a result for the Rapids would pull Colorado closer to RSL in the Western Conference standings. With the Rapids just four points back of the Claret-and-Cobalt at the moment, that might not be the best thing.
As several pointed out on Twitter, this whole situation has led to a bit of internal conflict for some of us here in the office.
@RealSaltLake But a San Jose win would put your chief rival one step closer to losing out on a playoff berth. The enemy of your enemy...
— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) October 8, 2013
@robertjonas Well now we're conflicted.
— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) October 8, 2013
Moving past the Quakes-Rapids contest – and our minor existential crisis – the Seattle-Vancouver matchup is oozing with Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield implications. There’s no dilemma here: RSL fans will be rooting for the ‘Caps to pull the upset in this Cascadia clash.
Seattle is currently one point behind RSL for the West lead and two points behind the New York Red Bulls in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield. The Sounders have two games in hand on both the Claret-and-Cobalt and New York, meaning that Seattle will need to drop a result or two down the stretch for RSL to have a shot at the West crown and the Supporters’ Shield. No better time for that than tomorrow, when the Sounders will be without U.S. internationals Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson against a Vancouver side fighting tooth-and-nail for its playoff life.
Real Salt Lake's Rocky Mountain Cup-losing 2-2 draw at Colorado on Saturday was not the result of lackadaisical output, nor was it the result of injuries, nor of worrying fissures within the side's tactical makeup. What, then, was the cause?
Once again, Real Salt Lake conceded a game-tying goal from a hopeful cross; it is something we've seen repeatedly over the last three matches. In these cases, it's easy to point at the quality of defenders on display, but poor defenders in good positions are less likely to allow those sorts of goals. No, it's not an issue of the quality of defenders, but of the quality of defending take place. Nick Rimando rightly pointed at organization as an issue in the draw and the losses that preceded it. He's not at all wrong.
Goals in transition
Again, this is in part down to organization, but the issue starts further up the pitch. When the ball is lost cheaply at any position, the opposition is handed an opportunity to counter in numbers. They're also given an opportunity to send in hopeful crosses, as with the defense on the back foot, they are less capable of defending crosses into the box. We keep seeing it, and it's difficult to really solve with one fell swoop, but it's hurt us before, it hurt us this time, and it will hurt us again — even if we solve the issue.
It's a function, in part, of the way in which we play that we allow chances. As an attacking side that puts numbers forward — a tactical risk Jason Kreis admits — we must find the best way to deal with the transition, because it's going to happen.
A lack of defensive identity
This one perhaps is the cause of the preceding two points. When your defenders are unable to build rapport through playing time, understanding who exactly is where becomes a difficult proposition. A difficult question to answer: When last did we play the same defensive line in consecutive matches? The question boggles the mind. This season, we've seen Nat Borchers paired with Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Carlos Salcedo, Aaron Maund, and now Brandon McDonald. And we're only halfway through the season. Now, much of that change has been forced, but to go from having a genuine pairing that started the majority of matches in Borchers and Jamison Olave to this? There should be no surprise that we lack identity.
The question now: How do we create it? Who is closest? And will a pairing galvanize before the playoffs?
Real Salt Lake hits the road to take on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night’s game will be the final game in the Rocky Mountain Cup.
Here are a few interesting storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s match:
Rocky Mountain Cup on the line
This one’s pretty simple: If RSL wins on Saturday, it will take home its seventh-straight Rocky Mountain Cup. A loss or a tie and the Rapids take home the trophy for the first time since 2006.
Rimando and Beckerman poised for returns
After spending all of July away from the team on international duty and with the MLS All-Stars, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando look poised to make their return to the Claret-and-Cobalt on Saturday.
Both Beckerman and Rimando trained with RSL on Friday. Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis indicated after training on Thursday that both could start on Saturday.
RSL defender Tony Beltran also missed all of July while with the national team and the All-Stars. He won’t be available on Saturday due to suspension.
Beltran isn’t the only RSL player suspended for Saturday’s match – fellow defender Chris Wingert and midfielder Yordany Alvarez are also out for the match after receiving punishment from the MLS DisCo.
Abdoulie Mansally and Lovel Palmer are likely to replace Wingert and Beltran on the back line, while Beckerman should take his usual defensive spot for Alvarez.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio returned to the Claret-and-Cobalt in sparkling fashion last week, registering his third career RSL hat trick in the Utah side’s 4-3 loss at New York. Saborio has had a good deal of success against Colorado in his career, scoring five goals and notching one assist in nine regular season games against the Rapids.
It seems like the Rapids have forgotten their place.
Colorado - which, in case you've forgotten, has lost six-straight Rocky Mountain Cups to RSL - is talking a lot of smack ahead of Saturday's 2013 RMC finale, with Head Coach Oscar Pareja and goalkeeper Clint Irwin giving the first-place Claret-and-Cobalt plenty of bulletin board material for this weekend's clash at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
RSL is 0-1-1 in this year's Rocky Mountain Cup, tying the Rapids 1-1 at home on March 16 before falling 1-0 at Colorado on April 6. The Claret-and-Cobalt must win on Saturday to retain the club's seventh-straight Rocky Mountain Cup.
Here's Pareja on Saturday's contest:
"We know we're stronger than them," Pareja said. "And we know we can [beat them] again.
And here's Irwin responding to a question about his PK stop on RSL's Alvaro Saborio in the April 6 match:
"I hope, when we do get the three points this weekend, we can look back and say that was a key moment."
Real Salt Lake hasn't been at its best in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup Presented by Mark Miller Subaru, tying the rival Rapids 1-1 in the home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 16 before falling 1-0 at Colorado on April 6.
The Claret-and-Cobalt's 0-1-1 mark in the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup has the team in a tough spot, with the Utah side needing to win - and only a win - at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday to retain its seventh-straight RMC.
RSL's fantastic videographer Nick Lamping put together a solid recap of the first two Rocky Mountain Cup matches of 2013. Give it a watch above - and get that blood boiling for Saturday's 6:30 p.m. kick.