SALT LAKE CITY — With a postseason berth already clinched, Real Salt Lake went into Sunday's regular-season finale hoping to get three points and enough for a home playoff game.
They did that — and then they got a little help. RSL is coming back home for the Audi MLS Cup playoffs.
Damir Kreilach scored his sixth goal of the season, and Nick Rimando made five saves to make it stand up as Real Salt Lake held off Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 1-0 Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The win by Salt Lake (16-13-5, 53 points), combined with losses by Minnesota and the LA Galaxy, vaulted the Sandy-based side from fifth to third place in the Western Conference.
"The guys were what we talked about, what we trained. I felt like we were in control of the game for most of the match," RSL interim head coach Freddy Juarez said. "Credit to the guys; they believed, they followed what we talked about, and the results went our way.
"That's what we wanted. But this was a prep for the playoffs, and we got what we wanted."
That guarantees at least one home game in the MLS Cup playoffs. Real Salt Lake will host the sixth-seeded Portland Timbers (14-13-7, 34 points) at 8 p.m. MT Saturday, Oct. 19 on ESPNews.
"It's awesome, especially with the way the season went, all the ups and downs and the way the season went on," RSL defender Justen Glad told team reporter Samantha Yarock immediately following the match, even as the club was still scoreboard watching. "It feels good to have a home game, and it feels good for Freddy, to do that for him."
The No. 3 seed also keeps Real Salt Lake on the opposite side of the playoff bracket from LAFC, the runaway Supporters' Shield winner that finished with a league all-time record 72 points on 21 wins.
Rimando made five saves to clinch the shutout, his 10th of the season and 12th of the year for the team (backup goalkeeper Andrew Putna started for two shutouts).
"We had everyone working, everyone getting behind the ball when we needed to, and I think it was good," Glad said of the shutout. "It was just commitment. The whole team has bought in, and we know what we are capable of.
"We know it's five matches until a championship."
In a season met with frustration and off-the-field ordeals that led to the firing of former head coach Mike Petke and the resignation of general manager Craig Waibel, Real Salt Lake has done what many, at one point, considered unthinkable — qualify for the playoffs, and give Rimando at least one more match at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The legendary goalkeeper who owns every major goalkeeping mark in the Major League Soccer record book announced earlier this year that 2019 will be the final season of his two-decade career with Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, and the now-defunct Miami Fusion.
To guarantee it, first they had to win in Canada against a team with just 34 points in 34 matches.
Corey Baird fed Kreilach for the first goal of the match, sliding a cross from the left side into the box in the 28th minute that the Croatian international headed home for a 1-0 advantage.
So RSL did its job — and then waited until the Houston Dynamo knocked off the Galaxy, 4-2 and Minnesota lost on the road to the Seattle Sounders, 1-0.
"We had a first cross in that Damir did a great job of keeping alive," Baird said of the goal. "Kyle found me, and once the line stepped up, there was more space — and Damir made a great run."
The date, time and broadcast information of RSL's first-round home match will be determined by the league's broadcast partners, in consulation with the front office in New York City.
"It's a long season, and this is where you have to be a pro — be at your sharpest," Glad said. "I think if we keep up the mentality and the work rate, that is all it's going to take."