Real Salt Lake has 16 matches* left before the MLS Cup Playoffs and each is critical. The side needs to accomplish three things by season’s end to be in the ideal position moving forward.
- Top 3 Finish in West
- Qualify for CONCACAF Quarterfinal
- Be Healthy and In-form Heading into Playoffs
Let’s address each in turn.
TOP 3 FINISH
- Position: Great
- Likelihood: 75%
The top three finishers in the West receive a bye through the first round of the playoffs into a home-and-home second round. Because the schedule is condensed, getting into the top three is a necessity for realistic competitors**.
Real Salt Lake is in a good position to do this. The side is currently in second in the West and holds an 8 point lead on the Seattle Sounders for fourth. Still, there are twelve matches to go. If Salt Lake has another slump, all bets are off here.
This is the priority because it’s a virtual requirement to compete for MLS Cup.
- Position: Not Started
- Likelihood: 65%
Real Salt Lake’s front office has made clear that CONCACAF is the ultimate goal. The side opens this year’s iteration of the competition as the prohibitive favorite in the group; however, it faces the daunting challenge of matches in Central America.
With only four matches to play, a single mistake could seal the side’s fate. The entire side will need to be ready to go for a flawless group stage if they want to advance. This is particularly true when facing CONCACAF officiating in Panama and Costa Rica.
Still, the side is the best in its group and should win it.
HEALTHY + IN-FORM
- Position: Good so Far
- Likelihood: 75%
The lesson of the last 3 seasons is that a team needs to get hot going into the playoffs. Real Salt Lake pioneered this trend in 2009 and will need to be healthy and ready going into November if they want another MLS Cup.
The side is currently pretty healthy. Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler are both recovering from injuries, but both should be ready to go well before the playoffs. Other players are suffering from minor knocks, but there aren’t any injuries on the magnitude of Javier Morales’ broken ankle last season.
However, the side’s form isn’t good yet. Despite experiencing the best start in club history, Salt Lake’s coaches, players and fans have been less than enthused. All know that the side has not played to its full potential, a fact that has frustrated week in and week out. The side is more than capable of being the best team in Major League Soccer but they will need to show it if they want to hoist another MLS Cup on December 1st.
*12 MLS Regular Season Matches, 4 CONCACAF Matches.
**A first round team would need to play four matches in two weeks to make MLS Cup.