Going into Sunday afternoon’s game, Real Salt Lake were coming off a string of painful home losses. Had they won against a beatable San Jose Earthquakes or the Portland Timbers, the team would have secured their playoff place and even had a chance at a home playoff game. The team lost both of those games and it put Real’s post-season hopes in jeopardy. Though they were below the playoff line, things lined up so that if they won on the road to Sporting Kansas City, they would be in the playoffs.
And that’s exactly what they did.
It was a dramatic game that saw RSL change from their 3-5-2 formation back to the more familiar 4-2-3-1 employed under former head coach Freddy Juarez. That shift in formation, aided by the return of veteran center back Marcelo Silva, gave RSL much more defensive cover than recent games. The team weathered Sporting’s attack, but needed a goal to win. Interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s substitutions took Real into that 3-5-2 to give the team more spark in the attack.
Then the goal game. In the 5th minute of stoppage time, winger Justin Merem tried to bicycle kick the ball into the net, but his shot was soft. It was, however, a perfect assist as RSL talisman Damir Kreilach was able to blast the ball past SKC keeper Tim Melia to secure the win. It was an unbelievable end to the game and RSL made the playoffs.
That goal wasn’t the only drama of the game. Rewinding the clock just a few minutes and there should have been a penalty kick awarded to Sporting Kansas City as Justen Glad handled the ball within the penalty area to break up an attack from RSL fan-favorite Roger Espinoza. Rather than recommend a review, the VAR official did not deem that incident crossed the threshold for a clear and obvious error. After the match, SKC coach Peter Vermes was livid and made his thoughts on the officiating clear. In a rare move, PRO released a statement on Monday saying that they had made a mistake and that the incident should have been reviewed and a penalty awarded to KC.
Sporting Kansas City fans took to social media to further vent their feeling of frustrating, some going so far as to say the match should be replayed. If Sporting had scored off that PK, it would have changed the game dramatically, especially given the handball occurred in the 90th minute. With a loss for RSL, the LA Galaxy would have made the playoffs. The Galaxy, much like RSL, needed a win to secure their playoff ticket. LA tied with Minnesota United, who made the playoffs with that draw. This outcome leaves both Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy fans frustrated with the no-call on Glad’s handball. SKC finished third in the west, but could have ended as high as first with a win. While no game is officiated perfectly, but it’s safe to say that RSL were lucky with how this one went (and, as many have pointed out, calls have not always gone their way in Kansas City).
On Monday afternoon, Real Salt Lake announced the details of their playoff game against the Seattle Sounders. They will play the Sounders on Tuesday November 23 at Lumen Field, in Seattle, Washington. They game is scheduled to kickoff at 8:30 p.m. MT for a national broadcast on FS1 and FOX Deportes in the US.
In Sunday’s game, captain Albert Runsak broke the most minutes played in a single season by an RSL player, having played 3,045 minutes across the 2021 season. Damir Kreilach and Andrew Brody received MLS Team of the Week honors, with Kreilach winning MLS Player of the Week.
Lastly, Albert Rusnak has been selected by the Slovakia National Team for their upcoming World Cup Qualifying matched on November 11th and 14th, where they will face Slovenia and Malta respectively.