With only two games remaining in the regular season, and playoffs hanging in the balance, Real Salt Lake resumes play after an international break when they host the New England Revolution in their last home game of the season.
These two sides have met 20 times in their history, with RSL boasting a 9W-6L-5D record, outscoring their Eastern Conference counterparts 34-29 along the way. The last time they met at Rio Tinto Stadium was in the summer of 2016 when they ended in a 0-0 deadlock.
But honestly, none of that matters right now. RSL has everything to play for, and this game — while not a do-or-die situation — can easily be classified as a “must-win” by all accounts.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 13-12-7 (46 points)
Table: 6th place (west), 12th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.44 (12th in MLS)
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (11)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (11)
Clean sheets: 7
It could all end here
While a loss won’t count RSL out of the playoff race quite yet, it certainly doesn’t put them in a good situation. After New England, they’ll have to go on the road to Portland just three days later, taking on the very same team that just snapped their 14-game home unbeaten streak last week with a decisive 4-1 victory.
Furthermore, anything but a win against New England will instantly take RSL’s playoff hopes completely out of their hands for the moment, as the LA Galaxy, just one point behind RSL, would be able to steal that sixth-place playoff spot if they win both of their remaining games.
Anything less than six points in the next three days will put RSL’s playoff fate in the hands of the Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sit just three points out of sixth place.
No pressure, though.
Ok, not to be a downer, but RSL’s got a mountain to climb in this game as they’ll have to pull this off with less than their best lineup. Both Kyle Beckerman and Sunny will miss this match due to yellow card accumulation suspensions, which honestly couldn’t have come at a worse time.
On top of that, attacking trio Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata, and Jefferson Savarino are all coming off of international duty. All three players made appearances for their respective countries on October 16th, just two days before RSL is slated to take the field against the Revs. Rusnak and Savarino both played 90 minutes while Plata served 45. Add to that the long overseas trip home — Rusnak flying back from Sweden, Savarino flying from Spain, and Plata traveling home from Qatar — and we’re likely seeing all three players on the bench to start off the game. Petke will likely hope to not even have to use them, getting them every bit of rest he can before the critical road trip to Portland on Sunday.
Honestly, I hope none of those three guys have to play against New England. It’d be a great sign if RSL was up by multiple goals in the first half, all but ensuring a smooth win from there on out.
So that leaves Petke with some difficult lineup decisions. Do we see Nedum Onuoha get his first start, pushing Nick Besler up into the holding midfield position next to Damir Kreilach? Will we see Luis Silva start in lieu of Rusnak at the #10 spot? Even further, will we finally see Brooks Lennon play out on the right wing if Savarino doesn’t start?
There’s no reason to give up hope. RSL has been very good at home this season, with the exception of those two losses. Let’s forget that they’re winless in their last four games. Let’s forget that they could potentially be missing roughly half of their normal starters to kick off the game. Maybe a giant change in the lineup is exactly what this team needs.
New England Revolution
Record: 9-12-11 (38 points)
Table: 8th place (east), 16th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.19 (16th in MLS)
Most goals: Cristian Penilla (12)
Most assists: Diego Fagundez (9)
Clean sheets: 6
Though New England is officially out of the playoffs, they’ve got their pride and their jobs to play for and they won’t be making it easy on RSL. Sometimes it’s the teams with no postseason on the line that can be the absolute toughest to beat.
Luckily for RSL, the Revs have been in excruciatingly bad form for the last half of the season, winning only two of their last 15. One of those wins came last week at home against the league’s second-worst team Orlando City, with both Cristian Penilla and Diego Fagundez grabbing goals to secure the 2-0 win.
Can’t buy a road win
In more good news for RSL, the Revs are also a pretty terrible road team, winning only two away from home this season, with the most recent one coming in a surprise 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium over New York City FC just last month. Other than that, their other road victory came early in the season with a 2-0 result over the Houston Dynamo.
Regardless, it’s pretty clear that everyone on the team has something to play for and will be fighting tooth and nail to make sure coach Brad Friedel takes notice and keeps them around during the offseason.
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), David Horst (torn achilles; out for season), Kyle Beckerman (suspension), Sunny (suspension)
QUESTIONABLE: Demar Phillips (hamstring), Marcelo Silva (undisclosed)
New England Revolution
OUT: Antonio Mlinar Delamea (int’l duty), Zachary Herivaux (int’l duty), Chris Tierney (torn ACL), Andrew Farrell (hamstring)
RSL: Rimando; Herrera, Onuoha, Glad, Acosta; Besler, Kreilach; Lennon, L Silva, Saucedo; Baird
*this week’s projected RSL lineup is just a guess at best. A shot in the dark, if you will.
NER: Knighton; Bye, Mancienne, Anibaba, Rowe; Zahibo; Caicedo, Fagundez, Caldwell, Penilla; Bunbury
When: Thursday, October 18, 7:30PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 58 degrees, clear
Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV, ESPN+, ESPN700 (radio)
Referee: Jair Marrufo