Sandy, Utah — With a 2-1 win over visiting Chivas USA on Oct. 23, Real Salt Lake rose to the top of Supporters’ Shield standings and will play spectator to the weekend’s matches with no control of its playoff fate.
After a scoreless first half, the pace of the game changed in the 47th minute as RSL midfielder Javier Morales was dragged down by the horse-collar in full stride. That play ignited a recovering Claret-and-Cobalt and led to an ensuing scoring surge.
A handball in the box set up RSL’s Alvaro Savorio with a penalty kick. He beat Chivas goaltender Tim Melia in the 49th minute with a blast to the right for the game’s first goal.
Only three minutes later, a resurgent RSL offense brought the ball up field with momentum. The fast break was broken up, but a loose ball stopped right just outside the 18 in front of forward Joao Plata, who fired home the second goal through a group of four Chivas defenders.
Substitutions for Chivas later in the half restored life to a team with nothing weighing on the results of the game.
“It was a difficult game because they didn’t have anything to lose,” Morales said.
Such was not the case for Real, who was set to cruise-control by the 75-minute mark.
Just seconds after coming on the pitch, a streaking Julio Morales of Chivas got behind the sleeping RSL defense and connected on a giant cross from Carlo Chueca. Morales controlled the pass with his first touch as Nick Rimando came out to cut down the angle and flung the ball perfectly around the keeper with his left foot to make it a one-goal game.
It looked like an entirely new Chivas club on the field for the rest of the match. The tying goal almost found its way past Rimando after a quirky deflection in the 81st minute. Much to the displeasure of head coach Jason Kreis, whose throat will need a week to recover before the start of the playoffs, Real spent the final 10 minutes playing nervy defense, doing anything to keep the ball out of its net.
“I knew we would definitely be fighting for a playoff spot,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Erick Torres sent an uncontested shot in the box right at Rimando in the 89th minute. That proved to be the final scoring chance for Chivas, who did not have enough in the tank to pull off the comeback down the stretch.
A short recovery after Saturday’s draw in Portland had RSL hustling in the first half, unable to find the back of the net. Real sent two shots wide of the goal in the opening 45, and Rimando’s diving save on Torres’s header in the 16th minute kept Chivas from an early lead.
Real had scored just one goal in its previous three matches before the two-goal outbreak Wednesday night.
Chivas’s lone goal of the night became the 35th goal RSL has given up in the final fifteen minutes of both halves this season. This must improve in the playoffs, or the consequences may not be as forgiving.
“Thirty minutes good tonight and 60 minutes very poor,” Kreis said.
Despite the slow finish, RSL picked up three big points in its final game of the 2013 regular season. It moved into a two-way tie for first with the New York Red Bulls in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, with Real having an advantage of four goals in a potential tie-breaking rule to decide the winner.
Now comes the fun part: RSL wins the Shield with a Red Bulls’ loss and a Sporting KC draw or defeat. With a Portland Timbers’ loss or draw, RSL secures the top overall seed in the western conference as well. At this point, Real can only watch and hope things work out in its favor this weekend.
“I wanted to get the first result. I wanted to get the three points out there and then put a marker out for the rest of the teams to live up to,” Kreis said. “So now we’ll see what they do on the weekend.”
RSL must wait until Sunday evening to see who its opponent will be, where it will play and when it will start the Western Conference Semifinals. The MLS Cup Playoffs begin with wild card games on Oct. 30.