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Only playoffs can offer redemption for waning RSL

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Making the playoffs won’t be easy for RSL, but it’s still an option.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake, over the last three months of the season, hasn’t done anything to separate themselves from the glut of miserableness they hoisted on themselves.

Last night’s 4-1 US Open Cup loss to Sacramento Republic FC was no exception. And now, having dropped out of their one viable chance at a trophy this season, they’re going to have to perform extraordinarily well to make anything positive out of this season.

The playoffs were always likely to be the goal, and that’s certainly what RSL coach Mike Petke will be aiming for. RSL GM Craig Waibel won’t be able to reinforce the squad for another month, when the transfer window opens, and even then, expecting immediate results doesn’t give players an opportunity to settle into new positions.

As such, it could take a massive effort to make it past the red line on the MLS table, and unless things turn around in the league for RSL, that line will get harder to reach every week.

I’ve done a little bit of number-crunching — nothing complicated — so let’s go over the findings.

Real Salt Lake is currently averaging 0.875 points per game, which is the worst the team has done since 2005. In 2005, they averaged 0.63 points per game. It’s very close to 2007, when they averaged 0.9 points per game.

The lowest points-per-game total a team has had and still made the playoffs varies by year, but the lowest was 1.22 in 2006, but last year was the second-lowest, 1.24:

  • 2016: 1.24
  • 2015: 1.44
  • 2014: 1.44
  • 2013: 1.44
  • 2012: 1.26
  • 2011: 1.35
  • 2010: 1.53
  • 2009: 1.33
  • 2008: 1.30
  • 2007: 1.33
  • 2006: 1.22
  • 2005: 1.41

Obviously, given the fluctuating structure of playoff qualification, these numbers probably shouldn’t be thought too hard about. But it does give us a framework for thinking about making the playoffs, and it’s worth considering that teams above the red line start around 1.27 this year. It’s early days, of course.

So let’s take a minimum points-per-game of 1.30, which I think is maybe a little generous. At 0.88 points per game, we’ll really need a turnaround to make this work. I’ve made the following observations:

  • With 10 home matches remaining, winning every one and earning no road points still wouldn’t quite give us the points-per-game total I set, as that leaves us at 1.29.
  • Winning every home game and drawing every road game would leave us with 1.53 PPG, which would have lifted us into the playoffs every year we’ve existed — but without a whole lot of wiggle room in 2013, 2014 or 2015.
  • To boost over the 1.30 mark, we could draw two home games if we, a) win every remaining home game, and b) draw two and win one away game.
  • If we somehow go on an amazing tear and win every remaining game, we could actually end with the Supporters Shield, with 2.0 points per game being slightly better than the 1.97 mark hit by LA Galaxy in both 2010 and 2011, and the 1.94 set by San Jose in 2012.

I think it’s clear that it’ll be an uphill battle. For reference, our remaining games — if you’re interested, you can actually take my spreadsheet and either download it or make your own copy in Google Drive.

  • 2017-06-17: Real Salt Lake vs. Minnesota United
  • 2017-06-24: San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-06-30: Real Salt Lake vs. Orlando City SC
  • 2017-07-04: LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-07-19: Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-07-22: Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City
  • 2017-07-29: Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus Crew
  • 2017-08-05: Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo
  • 2017-08-12: D.C. United vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-08-19: Montreal Impact vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-08-23: Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes
  • 2017-08-26: Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids
  • 2017-09-09: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-09-16: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers
  • 2017-09-23: Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders FC
  • 2017-09-30: LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-10-15: Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake
  • 2017-10-22: Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City