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Both Sides of the Aisle: Will RSL qualify for the 2018 playoffs?

Do they have the heart of a lion or merely a pampered purse dog?

2013 MLS Cup - Real Salt Lake v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

As a couple of Soapbox writers not primarily concerned with the coverage of Real Salt Lake here on the blog, Miles Dunn and David Cheever hope that we can help paint both sides of issues involving our hometown heroes in a way not possible to those with a closer relationship to the team.

Our mission today is to help you decide if Real Salt Lake is bound for glory, or at least participation, in the 2018 MLS playoffs.

Real Salt Lake has the heart of ______________.

Dave: Let’s start with a pampered well-groomed purse dog. While lack of height and bulk has been a long standing issue with Real Salt Lake, this point goes far beyond simple size. Many of the current, and recently departed, players have provided plenty of yap in front of the cameras only to return to the depths of the owner’s purse when it became time to put up or shut up. Salary and recognition remains an ongoing issue with all professional athletes who find it easy to judge their own self esteem in terms of both.

For a player, or players, to pick a team up and carry it on to glory requires two things. An individual, or individuals, willing to unswervingly face each new challenge and teammates willing to provide complete support to those who accept the challenge. While skill is definitely a contributing factor, we are talking failure to admit defeat here. Who on the current Real Salt Lake roster are the ones to take charge and clinch a playoff spot in a come-from-behind duel to the death? And even if someone takes that step is the team ready to unite behind them. Unfortunately, my impression from the performances so far this season is that way too many are willing to fight again next week...

Miles: I mean, how do I not go with the heart of a lion here? Listen, RSL lacks a starting caliber #9. and they are a small market team in a league hungry for large market legitimacy. RSL has had the cards stacked against them since they entered pro soccer. It is truly a wonder that they even made it into the league at all. Had they tried to win a bid in 2018, they would most certainly lose. Praise be to Dave Checketts am I right?

So what has RSL done? Flipped the middle finger high in the sky and let MLS know that we don’t give a fork. We won MLS Cup, hosted a freaking Champions league final in Sandy, Utah, and have stuffed the ballot boxes of every MLS poll involving RSL.

You can never call the state of Utah or its soccer team quitters and we won’t back down. RSL has been a roller coaster this year. Brilliance mixed with mind boggling apathy. Yet through it all we have managed to stay in the hunt for the playoffs and make even the international superstars look tame. We’ll take our lumps, but we’ll find a way into the playoffs.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake has a bench that is _____________ deep.

Dave: Let’s be kind here and pencil in 4 players. Whatever the number should actually be, experience has shown that it is significantly smaller than the injured list and that most of those sitting with the coaches at the opening whistle expect to do little else but improve their tan during the course of the match. There has not been any bench in the clinch this season. When was the last time you can remember a player coming into a match for Real Salt Lake and changing the course of the game?

Just as you might be inclined to point fingers at the coaching staff for their poor use of available substitutions, you must also point a finger at the relative lack of effect that any of the available substitutes have made when given the chance. Do they really want to compete everyday for starting positions or is this just about the bank balance and parking spaces?

Miles: Deeper than Craig Waibel will ever get credit for. I will concede to Dave that few make the rotation regularly but that is because our team is a walking hospital. I don’t even want to know what RSL is paying for their insurance because those deductibles were met a long time ago. Our preferred wingbacks of last year haven’t stepped foot on the field this year. Our young startlet Jordan Allen of years gone past has been MIA. Luke Mulholland went missing for months, and most of the new acquisitions (Barry and Henley) with the exception of Kreilach have had marginal and sporadic impact due to the niggles.

That isn’t the FO’s fault. They built a lineup that could compete for multiple trophies and watched as one by one they tore their achilles, reconstructed their knees, or strained their hammies. Yet, here we are in 5th place in the west and still clawing for every inch of respect we can get. This lineup is deep, but the injury list is deeper. How ironic is it that the 39 year old keeper and 36 year old captain have stayed so healthy when all the youngsters have fallen apart?

Real Salt Lake gets to ____________ early.

Dave: In an ideal world this would be clinch a playoff spot but I have to use go surfing in Central America. With the scheduling difficulties brought on by an uneven number of teams, somebody had to draw the short stick and get a bye on the final climatic media-strewn closing weekend of the MLS season. And of course making it one of the smallest media markets in MLS makes perfect sense.

For a team that seems to be in great need of external motivation however, it could not have come at a worse time for RSL because they simply haven’t proven they have what it takes to go out and clinch the spot on their own early. And just imagine what a perfect chip this seemingly calculated act by the front office will create for the hollows already well formed on many of the players’ shoulders by the almost constant raising of arms seeking a call from the referee.

Miles: I am going with, gets to bed early. While 3 of 6 teams in the east have already clinched playoff spots, no one in the West has locked one down. This is great for RSL, their fate is in their hands which is right where we want it. Last year we were all biting our nails that results in other games went our way, this year we don’t have to as long as we stay the course.

Realistically there are only two teams that have any chance of catching us at this point. The Galactics of LA or the White Caps of Vancouver. I just don’t see it happening. Both teams are averaging around 1.38 points per game while RSL is averaging 1.50. The only way for them to catch us is for us to give up. With 4 games left for both RSL and LA, they need to pick up 5 points to pass us, and that is assuming we don’t pick up another single point the rest of the season. That isn’t going to happen. So even if one of those two teams happens to leap us and get into the playoffs, the chances of both of them doing it is remote.

If in some remarkable collapse of RSL we find ourselves outside of the playoffs, that should spell the end of either Waibel or Petke’s time at RSL. Not because I don’t think they are great, but because that would be one epic end of season collapse.

In closing...

Dave: I simply cannot leave without acknowledging that RSL could still drop, rather than earn, their way into the playoffs. No contenders stand alone on top of the mountain in the 2018 version of the MLS Western Conference. They are all equally flawed and troublesome in their own ways. And that is what keeps me looking forward to the perceived glory of 2019.

Miles: Fans are asking the wrong question in terms of the playoffs. We will make the playoffs, count on that right now. The real question is this, how far can they go once in the playoffs? RSL is the enigma of the league this year. They can beat the hell out of you, or roll over and give you the game. You never know which team you are getting. So if RSL wakes up and decides they want to shred some fools, it is feasible that they could make it to the Western Conference Finals. Sadly, it is just as feasible that they could lose their first game and then we will be left wondering what 2019 will bring. Hopefully a new number #9.