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RSL's playoff chance could hit 40 percent with win over San Jose

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Real Salt Lake's playoff chances could jump as high as 40 percent with a win over San Jose on Sunday, but making the playoffs now is easier said than done.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake is on the verge of turning their season around, and Sunday's match against San Jose Earthquakes could be a tipping point in the team's momentum.

A win would flip the two teams, with Real Salt Lake moving ahead of San Jose in the standings. And while it might not see them make the sixth playoff spot — at best, it would put them level on points with Portland Timbers and behind them on the first tiebreaker, the level teams' head-to-head record.

In recent weeks, we've seen statistical evaluations of RSL's playoff chances jump around wildly, from basically nonexistent to where it's now resting, 15 percent. A win on Sunday would see those chances jump up 24 percent points.

While there's little doubt that the team is aware of the stakes, they're probably not paying attention to those percentages. Three or more wins from these few remaining matches, and Real Salt Lake's chances are as high as 100 percent — that's with five wins. Three wins could leave the team with between 44.5 percent and 93.8 percent probability of making the playoffs.

Of course, none of that really speaks to other teams, hence the wide variability, but the bottom line is that there's a glimmer of light out there, and Real Salt Lake can almost — not quite, but almost — reach it.

What will it take to get there? That's not an easy question to answer, so let's take it in parts.

1. Don't panic

One loss doesn't end this thing. In fact, losing only one game and winning four would still see a 98.1 percent chance that the team makes it. Losing one match — it doesn't even really matter which one — doesn't end anything, and letting heads drop would be disastrous.

Obviously, the goal is to win every game, taken one match at a time, but it's worth at least knowing that it's not the end of the world.

2. Score goals

The first tie-breaker is head-to-head record, but the second is goal differential. Given we're in a situation with a very real possibility of tie-breakers being involved, it's worth pushing to make sure that RSL is at least sitting in a reasonable position for those. Especially with a -6 goal differential, that's something that both reflects the season and needs to be corrected.

3. Don't concede goals

I don't know how clear this can be: We can't leak goals. We've been better in the last two weeks about that, and it's not a coincidence that it comes with the return of Jamison Olave. But if RSL is to succeed, Aaron Maund and Jamison Olave simply must be consistently good, and they must consistently play. With no matches remaining on turf, hopefully that's easy to stomach for Jeff Cassar and Olave himself.