It appears the dog days of summer are at last fading into the rearview mirror for Real Salt Lake.
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
With the stretch drive of both Major League Soccer’s regular season and the CONCACAF Champions League on the horizon in the next six weeks, it’s a critical time for the Claret-and-Cobalt in their quest for several season-long goals.
“(Getting the three points at home was) absolutely critical,” Real boss Jason Kreis said Saturday night. “I told the guys that yesterday, I mean we have three home games remaining, there just can’t be anything less than the three points in those games to get ourselves the best possible chance or not to make it into the last two playoff spots and to have a chance to succeed in the playoffs.”
Salt Lake’s appearance in the postseason appears all but locked up as it holds a 13-point advantage over sixth-place FC Dallas and an 18-point advantage over seventh-place Chivas, which has play four fewer matches, but the separation between positions of those teams likely headed to the playoffs is razor thin.
Teams finishing in the top three of their respective conference tables are awarded a first-round bye, while the fourth and fifth teams have to play at two-leg aggregate goals series.
With RSL’s already congested finish to the season, not having to play those extra two matches could be crucial to the team advancing in postseason.
“It gets us one more step closer to a playoff position,” midfielder Will Johnson said. “It keeps the pressure on the other teams in and around us. It’s very tight in our conference at the moment. There’s only five or six or seven games for most teams left so it’s getting down to crunch time and every three points gets you closer to the playoff seat.”
Saturday’s win marked the third consecutive match that Salt Lake’s defense earned a shutout, a remarkable feat as the team battles to overcome injuries that have forced multiple adjustments on the fly.
With Chris Schuler back on the match day 18-man roster the last two weekends, and Jamison Olave working his way back, it can only help Real’s efforts and rotation going forward, at last allowing Kreis to give players a breather and keep them fresh as the season winds down.
National team duty
Real Salt Lake will be missing four important pieces of its lineup when it ventures down to Houston for a Thursday night clash with the Dynamo.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman was again called up by U.S. Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann to wear the Red, White, and Blue in a pair of FIFA World Cup Qualifying matches against Jamaica. The first match is Friday, and the second is Tuesday.
Midfielder Will Johnson was called up by Canada for two matches against Panama, and forward Alvaro Saborio was called up by Costa Rica as they face a pair of matches against Mexico.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando was also called up, but will remain with RSL through Thursday and then join the USMNT for the Sept. 11 match.
Defender Chris Wingert will also miss Thursday’s match at Houston due to caution accumulation.
You can follow Justin Johnson on Twitter at: @jjohnson801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.