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Match preview: RSL, below the playoff line, looks for win over LA Galaxy

With only two games left to play, RSL needs every point they can muster as the playoffs are just weeks away.

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

With only two games left to play in the season, Real Salt Lake needs to make some big things happen if they hope to make the playoffs this time around. They’ll head to Los Angeles to take on the last-place Galaxy, a club that’s been in complete shambles which ultimately came to head with the firing of their coach Guillermo Barros Schelloto earlier this week.

MLS announced this week that playoff qualification would be based off of points per game, due to many teams not being able to play all 23 scheduled games due to postponements of games that were never able to be recouped. The Colorado Rapids are the biggest benefactor of this change, as the table ranked by PPG launches them into 8th place with 1.27. The Rapids will just need to stay afloat by getting results throughout their final three games to stay in the playoff picture.

This has made it a lot more difficult for RSL to jump ahead of the playoff line as they now sit in 10th place with 1.1 PPG and only two games left to figure it out.

Luckily, RSL has topped the Galaxy this season already with a 2-0 score line as LA visited Rio Tinto Stadium back in September. Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnak each notched a goal lifting the home side to a victory. The bad news? They’ve only won once on the road all season, back in August with a 4-1 win over Colorado. Not to mention RSL’s been having a pretty rough time the last couple months, losing seven of their last 12 games, only logging three wins during that stretch.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 5-8-7 (22 points)
Table: 10th place (west)
Points per game: 1.10
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (8)
Most assists: Maikel Chang (5)
Clean sheets: 6
Form: LLWDL

I can’t and won’t sugarcoat RSL’s current situation: it’s pretty bad. They’ve lost four of their last six outings, winning only one of those (2-1 over Portland) while also playing to a scoreless draw with FC Dallas. This last game against San Jose, however, was particularly bad. On more than one occasion, they left the league’s all-time leading poacher scorer completely unmarked and he pounced on those opportunities, scoring the only two goals of the game as San Jose downed RSL 2-0 at home. That was the win San Jose needed, because they’ll finish the season against two actual formidable opponents in LAFC and Seattle.

Note that I’m not considering RSL a formidable opponent. Not right now, not for anyone.

Sure, we can say that this season has been a complete wash, and has been in total disarray since the conclusion of week two. That, of course, is a true statement. Every team in MLS has been scrambling to figure how to survive the pandemic — both on a personal and professional level — but this season has been especially tumultuous for Salt Lake. You may have forgotten all the drama surrounding owner Dell Loy Hansen making some racist and insensitive comments in public view, followed by a whirlwind of stories and accounts that ultimately led to DLH’s much-deserved demise. Oh, what’s that? You didn’t forget about it?

While news on that front has calmed down over the last month or two, it doesn’t mean that it’s been smooth sailing for RSL. It feels a lot like the club is a rudderless ship, and it’ll take every ounce of energy just to survive the rest of this season and try to move onto the next. Between games being cancelled/postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests around the league, ownership drama and management changes, to their own fans booing them in their own stadium for taking a stance in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been a rocky year for RSL as a whole, and when looking back on it, you can’t truly fault them for their position in the standings right now. In a sense, they came into this season still somewhat reeling from the drama that came last year after the firing of Mike Petke, the subsequent dog-and-pony show DLH put on when he pretended to show an interest in Jason Kreis, only to defer the job to the next guy in line (again) as Freddy Juarez was named head coach. You probably forgot about all that by now, right? It was only just over a year ago, which feels mind-blowing.

So again, while it’s not incredibly surprising to see RSL struggling in the table this late in the season given everything they’ve been through this year, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating from a fan’s perspective. Of course we want to see our team succeed. Of course we want them to make the playoffs. We know that they’re capable of playing some fantastic soccer, but those moments have seemed to come fewer and farther between in recent months. It seems like around every corner, there’s another obstacle for the team to hurdle just to stay in the fight.

The newest obstacle? The MLS decision to use points-per-game as the method to qualify for playoffs. While RSL’s chances already looked a bit diminished after this week’s loss to San Jose, they still had a fighting chance and knew exactly what to do to jump from 9th place to 8th and back into the playoff race. Now with this new change, they fall to 10th and the path to the playoffs becomes a little less clear. All they can do is play for wins in their final two games as they take on the lowly LA Galaxy and 2nd-place Sporting Kansas City.

Of course the decision makes sense with teams ending the season with a varying amount of games played, but it’s just the cherry on top of what has been, at best, a very trying year for RSL and the league as a whole.

That being said, I digress. Focusing back on this weekend, RSL will head to LA in hopes of securing a full three points against the Galaxy, who have their own set of problems to deal with. RSL will be without Aaron Herrera, who picked up a yellow card in the last game and will sit out due to accumulation. Will we see Alvin Jones finally make his first appearance of the year? Or will Juarez decide to play Justen Glad as a fullback again? Questions: we’ve got ‘em.

But really this game comes down to one unified vision: They need a win. There’s no way around it. If they want even a remote shot at making the playoffs, they’ll absolutely have to get a win over the Galaxy.

Absences

OUT: Giuseppe Rossi (undisclosed injury), Chris Garcia (undisclosed injury), Sam Johnson (team suspension), Aaron Herrera (yellow card accumulation)

Projected Lineup

Putna; Jones, Glad, Onuoha, Toia; Everton, Ruiz; Chang, Rusnak, Baird; Kreilach

Los Angeles Galaxy

Record: 5-11-3 (18 points)
Table: 12th place (west)
Points per game: 0.95
Most goals: Cristian Pavon (9)
Most assists: Cristian Pavon (7)
Clean sheets: 4
Form: LLWLL

For as dark as it may seem in RSL’s world, it might be a little bit darker in Los Angeles as the Galaxy are in complete shambles this year. That giant new league-dominating signing they made last offseason in Chicharito? One goal, zero assists, 10 games played. There’s a chance he could go down as the biggest bust of all-time in MLS, but let’s save that list for a rainy day.

The Galaxy have lost eight of their last nine games. EIGHT. Their only win in that stretch came at home when they topped the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0. Other than that, it’s been all doom and gloom for the five-time MLS Cup Champions, who are on track to their worst-ever finish in a regular season. Their previous worst season was 2017 when they ended up dead last with 0.94 PPG. If they lose the last three of their remaining games, they would finish with an abysmal 0.82 by season’s end.

As if it wasn’t bad enough for LA, their manager of the last two seasons, former player Guillermo Barros Schelloto, was fired earlier this week and veteran coach Dominic Kinnear was given the interim tag for the remainder of the season.

For as abysmal as it’s been, their one bright spot has been Cristian Pavon. He’s scored nine of the team’s 24 goals this season, adding seven assists. The 24-year-old Argentinian has been virtually their only savior and without him performing as well as he has, they’d be doing a lot worse than they are right now.

While they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, it’s pretty safe to say that they’ll miss out on the postseason, making it the third time in four years they’ve failed to qualify.

Absences

QUESTIONABLE: Danilo Acosta (ACL surgery), Chicharito (hamstring)

Projected Lineup

Klinsmann; Feltscher, Steres, DePuy, Insua; Harvey, Kitchen, dos Santos; Araujo, Gonzalez, Pavon


Match info

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

Where: Dignity Health Sports Park — Carson, CA

Weather: 69 degrees, partly cloudy

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