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Playoff match preview: Real Salt Lake at LAFC

RSL looks for a win on the road against a very good LAFC to advance to the next round of the 2018 MLS Playoffs.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Well, they did it. Real Salt Lake made the playoffs thanks to some second-half heroics from Mauro Manotas and the Houston Dynamo. Houston came back from a 2-0 first-half deficit against the LA Galaxy to emerge victorious by a score of 3-2, keeping Zlatan and his crew out of the playoffs while ensuring RSL stayed above the redline in a wild Decision Day.

Now, RSL looks forward to their Thursday knockout round game as they head to Los Angeles to take on expansion side LAFC.

These teams have only met twice, and both times the Southern California club were the victors, claiming a 5-1 result in RSL’s 2018 home opener back in March, while defeating RSL again 2-0 in Los Angeles later on in August.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 14-13-7 (49 points)
Table: 6th place (west)
Points per game: 1.44
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (12)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (11)
Clean sheets: 7
Form: LDLWL

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After taking a week off as the only team in the league to have a bye on Decision Day, the RSL guys were able to sit back and watch the rest of the teams battle it out — particularly the LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo. It looked bleak for RSL as LA went up 2-0 early in the first half, but as we mentioned earlier, Houston scored three unanswered goals in the second half to seal the victory as well as RSL’s playoff spot.

“It felt good because we deserve it,” Petke said in an MLSSoccer.com article. “We deserve it. We had more wins than them, I feel we have a better team than them, we’ve played better than them so to come down to the last day, I thought it was justified in my opinion. We had done enough point-wise. We had a target of points and we got our target points. The issue is that the line raised from last year.”

Now, with fresh legs — it will have been 11 days since their last game when they play in LA — RSL will look to upset third-place Los Angeles FC in a one-game wildcard knockout round.

Lineup decisions

We’ve talked about lineup decisions over and over this season as Mike Petke has experimented with different formations and lineups, so we won’t go too far into it here. Let’s just say that Petke’s going to field whatever he sees as his strongest eleven players in LA, and all we can do is trust the choices that he makes.

It’s hard to speculate, since the last two games of the season saw drastically different lineups with wildly different results. The makeshift lineup that he put together when New England came to town clearly paid off as they took down the Revs 4-1. Just a few days later, though, RSL’s “A-Team” was unable to get a result in Portland while looking lost out there.

Will we see Corey Baird get the start up top? Or will Kreilach start at center forward? Who will be the two holding midfielders this week?

Everybody’s healthy, with the exception of the usual players who have had serious or season-ending injuries for some time now.

Win and keep going

Obviously, with this round of the playoffs being a one-game knockout round, the winner gets to continue on in the tournament and the loser’s season is over. If RSL wins, they’ll advance to the next round and play a home-and-home series against Sporting Kansas City, the first game coming on Sunday, November 4th at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Certainly tired legs could come into play, as the game in Los Angeles has the potential to go a full 120 minutes plus penalty kicks, should the teams be deadlocked at the end of regulation and extra time. In my humble opinion, though, Petke shouldn’t be resting anyone in LA in hopes of getting past them and having fresh legs for Sunday. This game is an all-or-nothing chance and RSL will need all the firepower they can get.

Absences

OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles), David Horst (achilles)

Projected Lineup

Rimando; Lennon, M Silva, Glad, Herrera; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Kreilach

Los Angeles FC

Record: 16-9-9 (57 points)
Table: 3rd place (west)
Points per game: 1.68
Most goals: Carlos Vela (13)
Most assists: Carlos Vela (9)
Clean sheets: 9
Form: LWWDL

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

LAFC has had somewhat of a fairytale season, not only qualifying for the playoffs in their first year, but boasting one of the best records in the Western Conference. Sure they finished third, but their final game of the regular season was a six-point swing against Sporting Kansas City. Had they won that game, they would have finished at the top of the west. Instead, they finished at 57 points and fell into third place as Seattle edged out the San Jose Earthquakes to sneak into second place on the last day.

Coach Bob Bradley and his players need to turn to the knockout game with a quick turnaround after Sunday’s loss to Kansas City. Bradley also has some decisions to make, as he’ll have some tired players who could potentially play three games in eight days if they make it past Real Salt Lake.

Fortress of California Stadium

To add pressure on RSL — who only won three games on the road all season — LAFC boasts a record of 9-1-7 at home in the confines of Banc of California Stadium. Their only loss came on August 11th as Sporting Kansas City escaped LA with a 2-0 victory.

LAFC has no room to get complacent, though. This game is anything but a sure thing for them. Since the last time they played RSL, they lost arguably their best defender in Laurent Ciman, who left the club at the end of August to join French Ligue 1 team Dijon.

In addition, late summer signing Christian Ramirez was the one to score both goals when RSL suffered that 2-0 defeat to LAFC back in August. Ramirez hasn’t scored another single goal and has only played a total of 161 minutes since that game on August 15th.

Sure, LAFC has won six of their last 11, but many of the losses and draws they’ve suffered should have been “sure things,” including a 2-2 draw at home against Vancouver, a 3-1 loss on the road against Chicago, and a 1-1 draw at home against New England, dropping points against non-playoff teams.

RSL is sure to come out fired up and ready to get the win, so if LAFC shows any signs of weakness or complacency, their chances of moving on could dwindle pretty quickly.

Absences

OUT: Quillan Roberts (fibular facture), Mark-Anthony Kaye (ankle), James Muprhy (undisclosed injury)

Projected Lineup

Miller; Beitashour, Silva, Zimmerman, Harvey; Feilhaber, Atuesta, Nguyen; Vela, Diomande, Rossi


Match info

When: Thursday, November 1, 8:30PM MT

Where: Banc of California Stadium — Los Angeles, CA

Weather: 72 degrees, partly cloudy

Broadcast: ESPN2, UniMas

Referee: Mark Geiger