It’s really all in our hands, and that’s the exciting part. There’s definitely some pressure, but that’s what we’re doing this job for. – RSL defender Justen Glad

SANDY — Real Salt Lake returned to the training field for the first time in four days on Thursday, and coach Mike Petke was pleased with what he saw.

“I thought today was one of our sharpest practices we’ve had in a while and it was after four days off. It was supposed to be light,” said Petke.

Real Salt Lake has a bye this weekend, and Petke and his staff are hoping to balance rest and recovery with staying sharp because its next game is at Colorado next Saturday. With three players away on international duty, and a couple others sitting out with injury, Petke has a smaller squad to try and keep sharp the rest of this week.

By the time RSL takes the field again next weekend it will know exactly where it stands in the tight Western Conference playoff race.

Houston and FC Dallas have each played one less game than RSL, but they will make those games up prior to next weekend. Dallas plays at Colorado this Saturday while Houston hosts Kansas City on Wednesday. Those two matches will level the teams, along with San Jose, at 32 games played with two remaining.

At the moment RSL occupies the last playoff spot with 42 points, just one point behind fifth-place Houston. Depending on the results of the next six days, it could find itself trailing Houston by four points and below the playoff line trailing Dallas by two points.

When he ponders those scenarios Petke can’t help but think back to numerous matches earlier this season when Real Salt Lake dropped points — particularly the three straight ties at home this summer to Kansas City, Columbus and Houston.

“Those are the things that drive me crazy. If one of those games, if we would’ve been executing and playing like we have the last month, perhaps we’re not as up against the wall. But I like the pressure, and I think a lot of these guys thrive on pressure. But I’d rather not have the pressure right now. I wish we were in the driver's seat,” said Petke.

As it stands now, it’s possible that RSL could win its last two games at Colorado and at home against Kansas City and still miss the playoffs. Even though it’s possible, the likelihood of Houston and Dallas winning out seems highly unlikely.

“It’s really all in our hands, and that’s the exciting part. There’s definitely some pressure, but that’s what we’re doing this job for. We perform under pressure, and it gives you a little extra focus, a little extra energy in these big games,” said defender Justen Glad.

There’s an interesting caveat, though, that’s hanging over the entire playoff picture in the East and West.

As high school as it seems, Dallas might be forced to forfeit last weekend’s tie at Orlando for using an ineligible player. No joke. It appears to have unintentionally broken an MLS and FIFA rule, and losing that point would drop it to 41 points in the standings.

That would mean if Dallas settles for a tie or loses in Colorado on Saturday, RSL would remain in front in the standings.

So how did a professional team even use an ineligible player? It appears to be simple carelessness.

Last Saturday Michael Barrios was a late scratch to FC Dallas starting lineup. He was originally penciled in on the lineup sheet that was apparently submitted to the referee. MLS rules indicate that any player removed from the starting lineup after the sheet is submitted to the referee is no longer eligible to play in that particular game.

Barrios entered the game as a substitute in the 80th minute. According to the rules, it should be a forfeit but MLS hasn’t ruled on the matter five days later.

“For me, it’s the easiest decision in the world,” said Petke when asked about his interpretation of the matter. “I’ve been in this league long enough so who the heck knows. I know what should happen.”

It’s a bizarre cloud hanging over the playoff races in both conferences, as Orlando could conceivably pick up two more points if it’s ruled a forfeit.

Petke isn’t worrying too much about it though.

“I just want to concentrate on getting results the next two games,” he said.