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RSL’s second half slide leaves team in perilous position

RSL’s second-half slide is among the worst in the last decade for the team.

MLS: Leagues Cup Showcase-Atlas at Real Salt Lake Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake entered match day 17 at home against a struggling and injured Columbus Crew side, with an opportunity to finish the night at the top of the MLS standings with a win. Instead, the team played a dour 0-0 draw and dropped two points at home. Defender Aaron Herrera mentioned postgame that the team had talked about it, and was disappointed to miss such a golden opportunity. Since then, the midway point of the season, LAFC is out of sight at the top of the standings and RSL have endured what seems to be an unbreakable slide to find themselves in 8th place — outside the playoffs if they started today.

How does a team go from challenging for the top of the MLS standings to being below the playoff line in 15 games? Well, by playing one of the worst 15-game stretches the club has seen since 2017, and tied for the second worst stretch in the period of 2012 to 2022 (excluding the 2020 COVID season). [I used Matt Montgomery’s form guide, which only has results from 2012 forward].

The 2017 season saw the firing of Jeff Cassar just three games into the season, and this tumultuous period, which saw Mike Petke placed in charge, had a stretch of 13 points in 15 games from March 11, 2017 to June 3, 2017. During RSL’s current 15 game stretch, the club has managed to acquire a measly 14 points, which is tied with that same 2017 squad for the second worst stretch since 2012.

During this 15 game stretch, this equates to 0.93 points per game. For context, the San Jose Earthquakes, who are bottom of the Western Conference standings, average 0.91 points per game, meaning over this second half of the season RSL has had the pace of one of the worst teams in the conference. A far cry from RSL’s first-half performance which saw them accrue 29 points in 17 games, or a 1.71 points per game pace.

RSL has two games to finish the season and, depending on those results, it is not out of the realm of possibility for RSL to have their worst half season stretch since what must surely be before the 2009 MLS Cup winning squad. Since 2012, the worst 17-game stretch was, to no one’s surprise, also the beginning of the 2017 season, where RSL accumulated 16 points in 17 games. As it stands, with 14 points in 15 games, RSL must draw their remaining two games just to match that abysmal record. A win and loss, leaving RSL on 17 points in 17 games, would still leave this second half of the season as the second-worst 17-game stretch between 2012 and 2022.

During this slide, RSL has had problems with just about everything. The team has struggled to create clear goal scoring opportunities, squandering those that they do create, defended poorly, made individual mental mistakes, and had puzzling substitution patterns. The heralded summer transfer window signings of Danny Musovski, Bryan Oviedo, and Braian Ojeda have thus far not made significant contributions to arrest this poor run of form.

Puzzlingly, head coach Pablo Mastroeni, has displayed, at times, a lack of urgency, despite the slide. After dropping two points at home against bottom-of-MLS D.C. United, Mastroeni said, “You only judge yourself on your performance. The result takes 27 people, the refs, the players, the wind, and fortune. We did everything we set out to achieve today, and that’s where I find solace.” In recent games, Mastroeni has grown more critical, but it might be too little too late. After a 2-1 loss at home against Cincinnati, Mastroeni maligned that, “Results are difficult to achieve in this league.” At the moment, almost no one except DC United and San Jose find them more difficult to achieve than RSL.

Going into the final two weekends, RSL does indeed find itself in need of good fortune. No longer in control of their own destiny, RSL must rely on the teams above them to make a mistake. Even winning their final two games might not be enough, as the damage from a disastrous second half might already be done. Based on games won being the first tiebreaker and a poor goal differential, there are very few scenarios in which RSL can finish level on points with other Western Conference contenders and still make the playoffs.

RSL are back in action on Saturday, Oct. 1 on the road against Western Conference Playoff rival Los Angeles Galaxy, who stand poised to potentially deliver the knockout blow. May fortune, and the wind, ever be in RSL’s favor.