In 2009, Real Salt Lake did the unthinkable when they made the playoffs on the last match of the season by jumping ahead of Colorado Rapids in the standings with a 3-2 victory.
That win put them at 5th place in the Western Conference.
With three matches left in the season, the magnitude of the task is significantly higher. While that 2009 run was brilliant, the team kind of backed in to the playoffs; that last-ditch win was made necessary by three losses in the last five games of the season.
Here's a reminder: Real Salt Lake scraped in as the last wild-card team. That placed them rather bizarrely in the Eastern Conference bracket, despite being, well, not from the East. That's simply because the playoffs were built in such a way that one conference could be significantly better than another, and by that token, more teams from the better conference would make the playoffs.
We don't have that now, but if we did, it might be an easier task ahead of RSL.
We're all looking to that 2009 season as a reason to be optimistic, but it's only a reason to hold out hope. That's not optimism, per se — that's recognizing that it's a long-shot. And that's probably wise, because it is, and bald-faced optimism has an extensive likelihood of ending in disappointment.
So, holding out hope it is. But why should we? We have our reasons. We'd like to share them with you.
1. RSL can win the games it must
Real Salt Lake's problem this season hasn't been about rising to the occasion; it's more acutely been about consistency of results. But RSL has won some big matches this year — LA Galaxy a few weeks ago should be the best example.
2. Other teams have it hard, too
Real Salt Lake is not the only team worried about this playoff run-up — and that might have a huge effect on the standings. San Jose, Portland, and Houston are all on the brink, and even Seattle Sounders could be in trouble if things don't go swimmingly for them.
While that doesn't mean we have a better chance, it does at least mean there are greater points at which everything could fall apart for the opposition. That should be at least a little encouraging — unless the ones falling apart are us.
3. RSL's form is better than those around us
This seems absolutely insane, but Real Salt Lake's form is actually better than those vying for playoff spots near us. Portland has four points from the last five matches, San Jose has six, and Houston has six. We have nine.
While that's not a reliable indicator of future results, it's at least one thing to be encouraged by as we go forward.