Not only were players playing for pride but also their jobs, as head coaches like Jason Kreis look on to building a new team next year. Here are two things we learned from this 2-0 home victory.
This match provided a perfect playoff preparation scenario.
Yes, it was the last regular season match, and no, it was not against a possible Western Conference postseason foe, but Wednesday night's match gave Real Salt Lake some much needed practice going into the postseason. The Goats entered Rio Tinto content on sitting back and defending before breaking away on counter-attacking situations, and that is exactly what they did. For nearly the entire 90 minutes, Chivas set back and absorbed the pressure that RSL exerted in order to keep their hopes of avoiding the Western Conference play-in match on Wednesday.
This is a similar scenario to ones that RSL might encounter in the playoffs. With nothing to lose, RSL's opponents might sit back and absorb pressure in order to advance in the postseason - given they have already won at home or they are just trying to keep a clean sheet before relying on home-field advantage to take them through the series.
RSL has historically struggled against counter-attacking teams. For instance, Chivas USA has been a perfect example throughout this season. Of the three matches that RSL has played against the Goats, the Goats have won 1-0 in the past two meetings. So what made this match different?
In the 36th minute, Alvaro Saborio was able to do something that RSL has not been able to do in the precious matches against Chivas: score. Saborio made it look easy as he slipped the penalty into the right side of the netting as Chivas' goalkeeper Dan Kennedy dove left.
Real Salt Lake was awarded the penalty after physical play in the box that had been lacking in the previous matches. In the 35th minute, Javier Morales floated a free kick to the top of the six-yard box. As Kennedy punched the ball away, referee Fotis Bazakos blew his whistle and pointed to the spot.
The referee judged that Saborio had been pulled down from behind and thus awarded RSL a penalty. The lack of physical play that lead to the penalty call was something that was lacking in both previous games.
The towering figure of Alvaro Saborio is something that Real Salt Lake's game relies on. Since missing the latter half of the season due to injury, RSL has struggled. In addition to his frame, Saborio is also a world class striker inside the box - something else that bit RSL last match with Chivas.
When you look at the last matches with Chivas, it is true that RSL maintained most of the possession but failed to create as many chances as their opponent. While possession is necessary to the style of play that RSL employs, it does not win matches - goals do! So the first thing that RSL did different is work hard to create chances and actually having attempts on goal instead of passing it off to the next player.
When desperation sets in . . .
This is the time of year that desperation sets in and we saw it during this match. Real was desperate to secure the third seed and Chivas was desperate to show their skills before the great unknown sets in. With desperation playing a role for both sides during this match, each side reacted to it differently.
Chivas went down to 10 men in the 56th minute after Marvin Chavez let frustration get the best of him. Attempting to widen the play, Chavez dribbled the ball out of bounds. What could only be described as frustration at his own actions, Chavez then proceeded to kick the ball towards the linesman and was immediately sent off by Bazakos.
While a bad situation got worse of Chivas, you would never have known if you would have only watched the proceeding five minutes after the card had been brandished. During this time, Chivas maintained possession more than RSL and created more chances than at any other time in the match combined.
Recalling several Whitecaps matches, this five minutes stand as a reminder that some clubs are more dangerous with 10 men as opposed to 11 on the field. RSL, however, withstood the pressure and again went to pulling the Chivas team apart - in no small part thanks to the work of Joao Plata.
While Chivas' desperation ultimately led to nothing and actually hurt the team's chances, the desperation felt by Real Salt Lake inspired the team to excel. As mentioned before, Plata, the speedy striker, wreaked havoc on the Chivas defense and even tallied an assist.
On that same note, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman had a solid performance on both sides of the ball and provided the insurance goal that secured the match. Stopping the Chivas attack from recording one shot on goal, Nat Borchers lead a strong RSL backline. No matter where you looked, RSL players excelled.
Unlike their opponent, RSL was able to wield their desperation in a positive way to come away with a strong result. When going into the playoffs it is important to realize that the desperation will only get stronger from here. But if RSL can use it like they did on Wednesday by keeping a cool-head, the players on the field can make another run for the MLS Cup.
Discussion Topic: Goalkeeping class
The class of both goalkeepers on the pitch on Wednesday was incredible. On one side, we have the all-time shutout leader and on the other side we have an incredibly skilled captain. On Wednesday, we saw Nick Rimando secure his 115th shutout, and we saw Dan Kennedy, one of the few bright spots in a Chivas team possibly captain his last match. While Rimando had a mostly quiet night, Kennedy came up time-and-time again to produce huge saves.
With that in mind, will the United States continue to be known for producing World Class goalkeepers? Is that where the US excels or do you think it is some other position? In addition, will the MLS keep producing quality goalkeepers like Rimando and Kennedy? And finally, were will/would you like to see Kennedy wind up next year if Chivas goes dark?