SANDY — Heading into Saturday’s game, Real Salt Lake knew it needed some help— from their stars, from the home crowd, and, ironically, from their Western Conference rivals.
Suffice it to say they got all of the above.
RSL’s playoff hopes were renewed Saturday as they defeated the Portland Timbers 2-1 to leapfrog FC Dallas for 6th place in the Western Conference. Entering tonight’s game in the 8th spot in the West, FC Dallas gave RSL a glimmer of hope early in the night as their match against Seattle ended in a 0-0 tie, and in the opening minutes of RSL’s match.
For now, RSL sits above the playoff line with four games to go.
"That’s a great feeling, you know?” RSL midfielder Albert Rusnak said when informed his team was above the line. “We do know that we depend on the other results, the other teams have played less games than us and are around the same points, so it’d be ideal if they dropped points anytime soon.”
Lost in the joy surrounding RSL’s win was that forward Luis Silva, RSL’s second leading scorer on the season, exited the game in the 56th minute and did not return after suffering a right groin injury.
RSL head coach Mike Petke did not shed much light on the severity of Silva’s injury when asked during the postgame press conference.
“We’ll monitor that (referring to Silva’s injury),” Petke said. “We have seven days until the next game and we’ll see where he’s at.”
The action started early for RSL, as Albert Rusnak scored in the 14th minute to give RSL the early lead. The aggregate score carried into halftime as RSL missed on several chances in the first half to extend its lead.
“Anywhere in the world, especially in MLS, when a team goes down, definitely just by one goal, the second half they really just push numbers forward,” said Petke. Inevitably it’s going to push you back. We did well in our shape to deny them much.”
The lead held until the 47th minute when Portland’s Diego Valeri headed a goal to tie the game at 1 a piece. The 1-1 tie was broken by Jefferson Savarino in the 61st minute, as the forward scored his fifth goal of the season to reclaim the lead from Portland.
Portland later missed on what appeared to be a golden opportunity to re-tie in the final minutes of the game. Following a foul commited by RSL defender Danilo Acosta, Valeri sent a kick soaring over a wall of RSL players that landed in the arms of Nick Rimando, who made a diving save to the bottom left corner to punctuate the victory.
“At this point, it’s playoff mode, it just starts a little earlier,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said of the team’s mentality going forward. “We’ve been a good run. We struggled early in the season and you kind of just keep telling yourself ‘We’ve got to go on a run’, and we’re on one.
"And so we got to just keep it going, and now you can see the confidence building and the momentum starting to build as well, and hopefully we can just keep it going.”