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Playoff scenarios: How Real Salt Lake can punch their ticket

RSL can clinch their playoff spot this weekend, and not just with a win at Portland. We’re looking at all the scenarios that will put RSL in the postseason heading into the last week of play.

MLS: New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

So, that game against the Revs was great. Better than great, really. I don’t think any of us expected that lineup to go out and win by three goals, but those guys went out there and got it, making it look relatively easy in the process.

So now what?

Real Salt Lake can clinch their playoff spot with a few different scenarios this Sunday heading into the last game of the regular season.

First, let’s look at the standings that are relevant to us.

Western Conference Playoff Hunt

Rank Club Pts GP W L T GD
Rank Club Pts GP W L T GD
5 Portland Timbers 51 32 14 9 9 4
6 Real Salt Lake 49 33 14 12 7 0
7 LA Galaxy 45 32 12 11 9 1
8 Vancouver Whitecaps 43 32 12 13 7 -14

There are four teams still in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, as everyone else has either clinched (FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, LAFC, Seattle Sounders) or been eliminated (Minnesota, Houston, San Jose, Colorado).

The tiebreakers are as follows:

  1. Number of wins
  2. Goal Differential
  3. Goals For

There are a bunch more tiebreaking procedures, but I can’t imagine our situation needing to go past goal differential anyway, so we won’t go into that here.

Next, let’s look at the schedule for the last two games for each of these teams.

  • POR: vs RSL 10/21, at Vancouver 10/28
  • RSL: at Portland 10/21
  • LAG: at Minnesota 10/21, vs Houston 10/28
  • VAN: at LAFC 10/21, vs Portland 10/28

The Galaxy clearly have the easiest schedule, taking on two teams who are already out of the playoffs and have lost their last two games each.

As for RSL’s playoff chances, let’s take a look at what could go down this weekend and still pan out in their favor, resulting in a playoff clinch.

1. RSL gets a win over the Portland Timbers

This is the most obvious and the most ideal option, since it’s the only option that will guarantee a postseason spot regardless of any other team’s result. Since the LA Galaxy are just one point behind, if RSL gets another three points on Sunday then they’ll clinch their spot.

As a cherry on top, they’ll jump ahead of Portland into fifth place, leaving the Timbers in hot water with the Galaxy on their trail. In this scenario, if LA beats Minnesota, they’ll need a win against Houston coupled with a Portland loss at Vancouver next week, along with some goal differential help since they’d be tied on wins.

2. RSL draws Portland, LA draws or loses to Minnesota

A draw for RSL would put them at 50 points and safely out of reach of the Whitecaps in any case. However, if LA gets a win against Minnesota, all they would need is a win against Houston next week and they’d jump ahead of us by one point, knocking us out at the last minute.

But an LA draw or loss against Minnesota would put us out of reach for the Galaxy outright on points, making their max possible points either 49 or 48, depending on their result.

3. RSL loses to Portland, LA and Vancouver both draw or lose

In this less-than-ideal scenario, RSL would need some help from both LA and Vancouver, while potentially needing to rely on the wins tiebreaker to clinch a spot. With an LA loss, that would leave RSL up by four points and safely out of reach going into the last game of the season. However, if Vancouver beats both LAFC and Portland, they would end up tied with RSL on points and wins, but their current -14 goal differential would certainly come into play, and I don’t see them making up enough ground there in just two games.

With an LA draw, though, they would officially fall short on the wins tiebreaker even though they could catch RSL in points with a win over Houston next week. Obviously, a loss or draw from Vancouver this weekend will see them eliminated from playoff contention altogether.

Phew, my head hurts.

There’s a lot at play this weekend, and it’s good to know that RSL can pull off a playoff spot even if they don’t get a result on the road. But let’s be honest — we all want them to go up to Portland and get the job done outright without having to rely on results from other teams. Let’s clinch that playoff spot with a win and have an easy week off, knowing that playoffs are right around the corner no matter what.