It’s been a long road to get here, but Real Salt Lake is in the playoffs.
With our first match coming against Western Conference foes LAFC, we spoke to Angels on Parade managing editor Alicia Rodriguez ahead of the game.
You may remember Alicia from her running the Chivas USA SB Nation blog, The Goat Parade, making her a contributor to the canon of American soccer since 2011. She’s also a contributing editor on MLSSoccer.com, and she’s given us the inside scoop.
1) Is a third-place Western Conference finish a disappointing result, given more was in sight?
Personally, my goal was for LAFC to make the playoffs and they did that. I think a Top 2 seed was a worthy goal, and they can be a bit disappointed they let it slip away, but finishing 3rd in the West is good, and puts them in a decent place for the playoffs.
My ideal goal for LAFC (a sentiment I think was shared by the team) was for them to win a title this year. They came up short in the U.S. Open Cup, falling in a semifinal penalty shootout, and obviously they were well off the pace for the Supporters’ Shield. They’ve still got a chance with MLS Cup, but I think it’s going to be difficult to say the least, and I’m not really expecting them to win MLS Cup this year.
2) What about Real Salt Lake is troubling to LAFC, do you think? Is there anything you’re worried about?
RSL is an inconsistent team, so it’s hard to know what to expect from them, and I think that can catch LAFC out. If LAFC expect RSL to roll over, and Real Salt Lake come out sharp and post a couple early goals, it would continue a bumpy end to the season and be a fitting end a season where defense was a definite liability.
I think as well that RSL’s speed and youngsters can also be a concern for LAFC. The likes of Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, Corey Baird and Joao Plata can blow through an experienced but pretty slow defense, and if they can throw numbers forward, LAFC’s defense can become disorganized in a hurry. If RSL do this, don’t be surprised if it unravels for LAFC.
3) We need hope over here. What’s one thing RSL fans should know that might give them a glimmer of hope?
LAFC can play shutout soccer, but they usually don’t. They aren’t afraid to get in slugfests on the scoresheet, something that makes their games certainly entertaining, but the approach of “We’ll score more than the other team” tends to not work in MLS, especially in the playoffs. Will LAFC stick with their freewheeling ways, or try to button down in the back? If they try the latter approach, will they be prepared to do it well enough to advance in the playoffs?
Also, there are players on this roster with MLS Cup-winning experience. Bob Bradley has won MLS Cup. But this is the first time this group is in the playoffs -- most of the stars have never been in the postseason before. Will they be able to play as a group and put together a win, or will this mini-slump to end the season continue?
4) (Bonus) Prediction
Famous last words, but I think RSL are the ideal Knockout Round match-up for LAFC. I think the black-and-gold will win and advance.