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SALT LAKE CITY — Justin Meram found Bobby Wood with a cross in stoppage time, and Wood sent a right-footed shot into the bottom right corner of the net over keeper Tim Melia to lift Real Salt Lake to a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City Sunday afternoon.
The only thing left to do was celebrate in style ... and for the final whistle to be blown after the 91st minute score by Wood.
Real Salt Lake went from narrowly making it into the MLS Cup Playoffs to punching a ticket to the Western Conference Final. It seemed even more improbable after the Salt Lake club failed to record a shot in a win over Seattle Tuesday.
"To be honest, I don't care if we're like underdogs or not," midfielder Damir Kreilach said. "We care about the quality about mentality and about who we are, and we showed this today. Again, it's another historical moment for us. It's two steps till the end, and we're gonna give everything to bring it home."
Coming off an opening round win without a shot against the second-seeded team in the West, Real Salt Lake was the aggressor Sunday and controlled the possession time and outshot Kansas City 11-5, with five of the 11 shots on goal for the visiting team. It was a concerted effort to control the game from the start.
Interim club manager Pablo Mastroeni said the team felt confident going into Kansas City that they could be on the attack and control the style of play.
"We felt like the pressure was gonna really be on SKC," Mastroeni said. "Having been here a couple weeks ago, we felt like we're going to have a little bit more time and space to really dictate the game with the ball, and I think we did a good job of that. We took our chances well, and more importantly, never opened ourselves up to attacks from a really dangerous counter attacking team."
For as well as Real Salt Lake did in controlling the attack, a penalty in the 23rd minute by Aaron Herrera gave Sporting KC a chance at a penalty kick. Striker Johnny Russell got his club on the board on a penalty kick shot into the bottom right corner past Real Salt Lake keeper David Ochoa.
And the home club had switched the momentum.
But in the second half, Mastroeni subbed in Anderson Julio and Meram in the 57th minute and later Wood, who subbed into the game in the 72nd minute, and the momentum suddenly shifted back to the visiting team.
And whether it was Wood's presence or just the fortunes changing, Real Salt Lake found the back of the net two minutes later after he came into the game on a cross from Andrew Brody to Julio, who headed the ball into the center of the goal on the equalizer.
Real Salt Lake was back in business.
"We got behind it a little bit with that PK, but never lost our discipline, stayed organized, and the guys that came in did a fantastic job of really changing the momentum," Mastroeni said.
The two clubs played to a draw until two minutes of stoppage was added at the end, and it appeared Real Salt Lake was headed for extended play in back-to-back games. That's until Meram found Wood in the 91st minute to give Real Salt Lake the improbable win.
"I think when everyone picks you to finish bottom of the West and probably bottom two teams in the league, you have a chip on your shoulder," Mastroeni said. "These guys are professional athletes that make a living proving people wrong, and do I think have we harnessed that? I think so. But we've also put in the work; we also have a lot of belief, and I think we played some good stuff."
Real Salt Lake will now play fourth-seeded Portland in the Western Conference Final.
"I think the only people that really believe that we'd be in this position are the guys in that locker room and the guys training back home," Mastroeni said. "It's been such a crazy season with all the different variables that have jumped into the equation. But I think it's a testament to the group of guys that really believe that we can come together and be greater than the sum of our parts.
"I think it's a great reflection of the club, it's a great reflection of the wonderful fans in Salt Lake, and last but not least, a great reflection of the character of the guys in the locker room."