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What we’re watching in Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City: playoff edition

It’s a home playoff game against one of Real’s main rivals. Can the team get it done at the RioT?

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

They said it couldn’t be done. Every preview I saw had LAFC beating Real Salt Lake and moving forward. Instead, LAFC’s fan threw things at RSL players, caused a five-minute game suspension, and went home empty-handed. RSL head coach Mike Petke made the adjustments the team needed to be successful. Now, they host the first leg in a two-game series against Sporting Kansas City. In this type of playoff game, Real will need to do everything they can to notch a few goals while preventing SKC from getting any of the heavier weighted away goals.

Short rest and playoff energy

One thing that’s been hard for RSL is short turn arounds. We saw this against the last game in Portland. That same Thursday to Sunday schedule might not be as bad this time as a road win followed by a home game feels like a better situation, as though momentum is being built. Plus, it’s the playoffs. It’s the craziest time of the MLS season. RSL has been very good at home in 2018. Their only loss against SKC in 2018 was at home, but this was in the opening stages of the US Open Cup, and both teams fielded players that see less time. They beat SKC at home and drew with them away, a set of results that would see Real advance if it was the playoffs. Beckerman said the team has been doing everything they can to recover. Will those few short days be enough for RSL to win?

Adjustments and yellows

Aside from a massive win, one of the biggest positives in that game was a revised lineup. The coaching staff made the needed adjustments and got it exactly right. They also brought in Plata in the 60th minute, which added some pressure to LAFC’s backline, helping to pull the whole team away from RSL’s goal. This displayed a tactical flexibility that won the game.

Will the staff make similar changes in order to get things done at home? It’ll be very important to see at least some rotation and rest. There’s also the massive issue of yellow card accumulation for the playoffs. Let’s look at the MLS rule:

• A player who accumulates two yellow cards in any of the following matches is suspended for his next match: Knockout Round match, Conference Semifinal Leg 1, Conference Semifinal Leg 2, Conference Championship Leg 1.

• A player who earns his second yellow card in the Conference Championship Leg 2 is eligible to play in MLS Cup.

Those five yellow cards (Herrera, Savarino, Baird, Rusnak, Sunny) now have huge implications. Mike Petke told RSL Soapbox on Saturday that it won’t affect his lineup selection, but he needs his players to be intelligent if they’re sitting on a yellow. Forward Corey Baird told us that being on a yellow card wouldn’t affect his game because if that’s on his mind during play, it will negatively affect his effort. Instead he’ll elect to block it out and focus on the game at hand.

Clean sheet

Nick Rimando had a massive six saves in RSL’s last game. He did a ton to keep RSL alive in that game. Now that we’ve moved onto the next phase of the playoffs, away goals count big. If Real can keep a clean sheet, that puts them in a very good position as they prepare for the second leg of the western conference semi-finals in Kansas City. That goal will mean more than Rimando alone standing on his head. It’ll be a whole team effort to contribute to both sides of the ball. The biggest question around selection in the backline is Marcelo verse Nedum. Since Glad was rested on Thursday, I think he gets the start. Both center backs were good the last match, but Nedum was one of the best players for RSL. It makes sense to me that he gets the start alongside Glad in the game.

Injury report


Horst (achilles 6/26)


Beltran (knee 10/15/17)

Allen (knee 6/16/17)

Horwath (achilles 4/18)

Predicted lineup


Lennon, Glad, Onuoha, Herrera

Beckerman, Sunny

Savarino, Rusnak, Plata