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Match preview: RSL will clinch playoffs with win over Houston as the RioT says goodbye to a legend

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RSL takes on the Houston Dynamo in the final regular season home game of the season. With a win, RSL will book their ticket to the playoffs as Nick Rimando makes his last home regular season appearance of his career.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

After a heartbreaking loss at home to the LA Galaxy on Wednesday, Real Salt Lake refocuses as they play host to the Houston Dynamo in the final home game of the regular season.

There will be even more heartbreak regardless of the result, as this game will mark Nick Rimando’s last regular season home match of his career.

Playoff madness

Houston, eliminated from playoff contention, is playing for pride and job security while RSL is still fighting to officially lock up a playoff spot in an incredibly tight Western Conference race. With San Jose’s loss and Portland’s draw earlier this week, a win over LA would have seen RSL secure their own spot in the playoffs, but instead that spot went to the Galaxy.

In addition, both Minnesota and Seattle were able to book their tickets to the postseason, leaving just three spots left between four teams that are only separated by three points: Real Salt Lake (47), Portland Timbers (45), FC Dallas (45), and San Jose (44).

Technically, Colorado (39) isn’t mathematically eliminated yet, but barring a miracle from all the remaining teams, it’s pretty safe to say they’re out.

This Sunday, Real Salt Lake can clinch their spot with a win. Plain and simple: win and they’re in. On top of that, if San Jose happens to beat Seattle, RSL will jump into fourth place and control their own destiny in locking down a home match in the first round of playoffs.

There are a myriad of other ways RSL can clinch this weekend, so let’s look at them here.

Real Salt Lake will clinch a spot on Sunday if:

  • RSL wins vs. Houston

-or-

  • RSL draws vs. Houston and Portland loses or draws vs. SKC

-or-

  • RSL draws vs. Houston and Dallas loses vs. Colorado

-or-

  • RSL draws vs. Houston and San Jose loses vs. Seattle

-or-

  • Portland loses or draws vs. Kansas City and San Jose loses or draws vs. Seattle

If RSL loses to Houston, they could fall below the playoff line if Portland, Dallas, and San Jose all get wins this weekend. RSL and San Jose would be tied on points and wins, so the tiebreaker would come down to goal differential. RSL is currently at three while SJ is at zero, so it’s very possible they could jump ahead in that scenario.

Obviously, a simple win over Houston is the best route to take.

Every game from each conference is happening at the same time for the next two weeks. All Eastern Conference games will be at 3:00PM MT while all Western Conference games will follow at 5:30PM MT as the season comes to a close.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 14-13-5 (47 points)
Table: 5th place (west)
Points per game: 1.47
Most goals: Albert Rusnak (10)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (5), Damir Kreilach (5), Albert Rusnak (5)
Clean sheets: 11
Form: LWLDL

MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Farewell to the GOAT

This is it. This is Nick Rimando’s last regular season game at home of his career, and unless RSL is able to host a playoff match, it’ll be his final showing at Rio Tinto Stadium, period.

They’ll be looking for redemption after giving up two goals to the Galaxy earlier in the week after some very promising attack throughout the first half while unable to find the opening goal. Assuming everyone is healthy and the “big guys” can play a full 90 minutes where needed, they’ll have a good chance at locking down a clean sheet against a Dynamo side that’s only won twice in its last 11 matches.

RSL hasn’t lost to Houston since the summer of 2017 when the guys spent “a week in hell” in Texas, losing to the Dynamo by a blowout score of 5-1, then heading to Dallas to get bulldozed 6-2 just a few days later. Since then, RSL has notched two wins and two draws, outscoring Houston 5-3 in the process. They earned themselves a point in this year’s season opener when Rusnak fired first to score RSL’s only goal in the 1-1 draw.

Absences

OUT:
Jordan Allen (knee; out for season)
Nick Besler (foot)

DOUBTFUL:
Luke Mulholland (hamstring)
Douglas Martinez (hamstring)

Yellow Card Accumulation Warning

Nick Besler

Projected lineup

Rimando; Herrera, Glad, Onuoha, Toia; Luiz, Beckerman; Savarino, Kreilach, Rusnak; Johnson

Houston Dynamo

Record: 11-17-4 (37 points)
Table: 10th place (west; eliminated from playoff contention)
Points per game: 1.16
Most goals: Mauro Manotas (13)
Most assists: Mauro Manotas (8), Alberth Elis (8)
Clean sheets: 3
Form: LWLWL

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Looking to next year

Already eliminated from the playoffs, Houston is coming off a 3-1 loss to Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC earlier in the week, and will now finish off the season at Rio Tinto Stadium followed by heading back home to host the LA Galaxy. If you remember last season, Houston were the ones who kept the Galaxy out of the playoffs last year with a comeback 3-2 win on Decision Day, enabling RSL to claim the last spot in the postseason.

Something very similar could happen again, though LA has already clinched their spot. RSL will still be fighting for a second through fourth place seed in hopes of hosting a first round playoff game, and with any luck LA will be within reach depending on how they fare against Vancouver this weekend.

The Dynamo will no doubt be going through some changes this offseason after parting ways with head coach Wilmer Cabrera in August. Davy Arnaud has been the interim coach since then, but after missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, it’s safe to safe the squad won’t be looking the same come 2020.

Speaking of changes, one they made possibly a little late in the season came in the form of Christian Ramirez, who has made eight appearances for the Dynamo since he came over from LAFC. He’s managed to notch three goals and one assist in that time, despite the team only managing to get two wins. Safe to say he’ll be a big part of their attack going forward for the foreseeable future.

Absences

OUT:
AJ DeLaGarza (foot)
Juan David Cabezas (knee strain)

Yellow Card Accumulation Warning

Juan David Cabezas, AJ DeLaGarza, Romell Quioto

Projected lineup

Willis; Bizama, Struna, Figueroa, Lundkvist; Martinez, Vera, Garcia, Rodriguez; Ramirez, Manotas


Match info

When: Sunday, September 29, 5:30PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 60 degrees, cloudy

Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)

Referee: Alex Chilowicz
Assistant Referees: Brian Dunn, Chris Wattam
Fourth Official: Pierre-Luc Lauziere
Video Assistant Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero