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RSL can still make the playoffs: Five must-win matches, home and away

Without earning points on the road, the playoffs might be impossible for RSL.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been pretty clear since Saturday that I think the road to the playoffs is now extremely difficult for Real Salt Lake after dropping four points at home in the last two matches.

I also don’t think I’m alone in that line of thinking. RSL coach Mike Petke has said in recent weeks that for the last, say, 12 matches of the season, they needed to average two points per game to have a chance at making it to the season-ending tournament. With two draws at home, that does get more difficult.

But if we extend this thinking to the last 14 games of the season, we get a little bit of a different story. You see, we managed two consecutive road wins, and that does offset our recent form slightly, though it hardly excuses anything. We’re averaging two points per game from our last four, which is a good start.

So if we take that we’re not in the absolute worst position but merely a difficult one, we can start to look at our upcoming matches and put together a framework for victory. We’d still need to average two points per match to really have a good shot.

Here’s the problem. If we win our home games and draw our road games, we end the season with 1.26 points per game. That’s only 1.6-ish points per game from this point forward. While there exists a very slim chance that could land us in the playoffs, we’d be incredibly lucky. If we go undefeated, drawing every road game and winning every home game, we finish with a playoff-potential 1.41 points per game, with 2.09 from this point forward.

That’s all not very likely. We’ll have to pick and choose our battles a bit, and we should probably focus on the games we can win and go from there. What options do we have for success? Let’s just say that we need to win everything at home, and that there are two immensely winnable road matches on the docket for us.

Aug. 5: RSL vs. Houston Dynamo

If we don’t win this one, it’s very close to over for our playoff hopes. We need a win, and while we could replace it with an away win, we really need to stop dropping points at home. Something, something, fortress again, something. You get the picture.

Aug. 12: D.C. United vs. RSL

D.C. United has literally lost every game they’ve played for six games now. That’s worse than we did at any point in the season, although our four-loss streak saw us score only one goal, which was really a bit depressing. The problem with this? We have a knack for being the team others beat to break the streak. We’ll need to be extremely cautious in this one.

Sept. 16: RSL vs. Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers have been struggling considerably in 2017. Maybe they haven’t struggled to D.C. United or Real Salt Lake levels, but they’ve been anything but effective. Since April 29, they’ve won only three matches. As a point of comparison, we’ve won four. So, yeah. Let’s win this one.

Oct. 15: Colorado Rapids vs. RSL

Oh, boy. Remember when we beat Colorado Rapids at the last minute with a Yura Movsisyan goal to make the playoffs in 2008? Well, maybe we need to see that again. Even if we’re not in playoff contention, this will be an exciting one, and we should win all the same.

Oct. 22: RSL vs. Sporting Kansas City

We end the season at home, which is nice, but we also play a difficult team with whom things have been extremely tense. Obviously, matches before this one will be hugely important, because we can’t lose every game and make the playoffs. But if we’re at all close, this match could be a decisive one.