A team with their season on the line versus a team with nothing to lose. Real Salt Lake was in the same position just over a year ago when they faced Colorado in the second to last week of play, but the result was much different this time. RSL’s 2018 regular season home finale had everything…nutmegs, a first career MLS goal, four different goalscorers, and a Nick Rimando penalty save. With the 4-1 win on Thursday, RSL finishes the 2018 regular season at 11-2-4 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
With Kyle Beckerman and Sunny suspended for Thursday’s match and Savarino, Plata, Rusnak, and Barry just returning from international duty, change was expected but the lineup still took some by surprise. Nick Besler moved into his ~natural~ position of defensive midfielder, Luke Mulholland started for the first time in 2018 after suffering a back injury early in the season, Marcelo Silva returned from injury and Nedum Onuoha got his first start since joining RSL (landing Justen Glad on the bench for the first time this season), and Sebastian Saucedo and Luis Silva returned to the starting eleven.
Goals on Goals and Game-Plan Execution
None of those lineup changes seemed to upset the flow of the Claret & Cobalt, as Onuoha worked well with his new CB partner Silva, Besler got himself on the scoresheet early, Mulholland kept things tidy in front of the backline, Bofo scored a lovely goal from the top of the 18, and Baird’s goal and two assists solidified his run for MLS Rookie of the Year. After the match, head coach Mike Petke praised his team saying his young players (specifically Brooks Lennon and Aaron Herrera) were “freaking men” on the field and everybody executed the game plan exactly. Petke also thanked the RSL Academy, saying their help in preparing for this match was a key to getting the victory.
RSL drew the short straw in scheduling this season with another quick turnaround, Thursday to Sunday, and will be the odd team out on MLS Decision Day. Thanks to Thursday’s win all RSL needs to secure their playoff position is a win in Portland on Sunday, but anything other than three points leaves the door open for L.A. Galaxy to swoop in. Thankfully, though RSL has proven repeatedly throughout the season that they have the depth, regular starters like Rusnak, Glad, Savarino, and Plata were not needed Thursday night and should be fully rested for Sunday’s match.