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Match preview: RSL faces San Jose with major playoff implications

With only three games left in the season, a win over 8th-place San Jose would put RSL officially back in the playoff race.

MLS: Real Salt Lake vs San Jose Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake heads out on the road for two straight games in California as the regular season nears its end. First up on the docket is the San Jose Earthquakes, who sit just above RSL in the table with 24 points, holding the 8th and final playoff spot.

A win would put RSL just ahead of them and back in the playoff race.

Both teams have been struggling as of late — San Jose has only won once out of their last four matches, and most recently dropped a 2-1 result to Vancouver. A win for SJ would have put them in sixth place and out of reach for RSL this week.

RSL has won five times on the road in San Jose, and with the way both teams have been displaying an up-and-down form over the last month or two, this one could go either way.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 5-7-7 (22 points)
Table: 9th place (west)
Points per game: 1.16
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (8)
Most assists: Maikel Chang (5)
Clean sheets: 6
Form: LLLWD

For RSL, the goal is simple: win this game to get back into the playoff picture. San Jose is only two points ahead of them in the table, so a win would put them at least in eighth place. They could potentially jump as high as sixth, but that’s not likely since FC Dallas has a +2 goal differential compared to RSL’s -5. Sure it’s possible, but it’d take a couple of massive scorelines to make that happen. More likely would be a leapfrog over Vancouver into seventh place. The Whitecaps are also only two points ahead of RSL and they face off midweek against Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders. A combination of an RSL win and a Vancouver loss or draw would result in RSL jumping into seventh place with only two more games to play.

Luckily, Salt Lake is coming off an impressive performance against FC Dallas at home that played out to a scoreless draw, but the home side logged 24 total shots, tallying 18 of those in the first half alone. Despite the flurry of shots and a couple of bounces off the posts, they weren’t able to find the back of the net but they still kept a clean sheet against a tough Dallas team.

“The reality is we did everything we needed to win the game, we just couldn’t put away the goals. That’s how it goes,” said Freddy Juarez in a post-game interview.

Nobody in the Western Conference has clinched a playoff spot yet, and RSL won’t be able to in one game either. After San Jose, they’ll head down the coast to take on the last-place LA Galaxy. Yep — that’s not a typo — the Galaxy are dead last in the west, and 21st out of 24 in the entire league. Of course, they could still make a comeback as they’re only four points out of the playoffs right now.

The west is incredibly tight, as only nine points separate first place from eighth place, so there could be plenty of movement over the next week before Decision Day on November 8th.

Absences

OUT: Giuseppe Rossi (undisclosed injury), Chris Garcia (undisclosed injury), Sam Johnson (temporary team suspension)

Projected Lineup

Putna; Herrera, Glad, Onuoha, Toia; Kreilach, Ruiz; Chang, Rusnak, Baird; Martinez

San Jose Earthquakes

Record: 6-8-6 (24 points)
Table: 8th place (west)
Points per game: 1.20
Most goals: Andres Rios (5)
Most assists: Cristian Espinoza (8)
Clean sheets: 6
Form: WLWDL

The Quakes are fresh off that 2-1 loss to Vancouver that had the potential to put them in a much better spot heading toward the playoffs. They took the lead in the first half thanks to a goal from Carlos Fierro, but they gave up two goals just after halftime to Ali Adnan and Tosaint Ricketts, and were unable to find an equalizer as the ‘Caps escaped with all three points.

Now, they’ll be fighting for their lives at home as they try to get back on the winning side of things and put RSL away. A win for San Jose in this match could move them up to sixth place depending on other results around the league, but really they’ll be viewing it as a do-or-die situation.

They’ll be without forward Danny Hoesen who underwent surgery in early October to repair muscle tears, and all-time leading MLS goalscorer Chris Wondolowski is listed as questionable with a thigh injury. He started and went the full 90 against Vancouver, though, so even if he wasn’t nursing an injury there’s a very good chance he wouldn’t see the field for this midweek game anyway.

San Jose will stay home to host fourth-place LAFC this weekend, so it won’t be surprising if they decide to rest some players in preparation for that big match-up.

Absences

OUT: Danny Hoesen (thigh surgery)
QUESTIONABLE: Chris Wondolowski (thigh)

Projected Lineup

Marckinkowski; Lima, Jungwirth, Alanis, Thompson; Judson, Yueill; Salinas, Espinoza, Fierro; Rios


Match info

When: Wednesday, October 28, 8:30PM MT

Where: Avaya Stadium — San Jose, CA

Weather: 61 degrees, clear

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