At halftime of Sunday’s match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake’s playoff hopes appeared to be on life support.
The Galaxy led 2-0, and with a win, L.A. would pass idle RSL for the final postseason spot in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. Real needed Los Angeles to either draw or lose Sunday to earn a playoff spot.
Houston came to the rescue, though, scoring three goals in the second half to hand the Galaxy a 3-2 loss, clinching the MLS Cup playoff bid for Real.
Now, sixth-seed RSL will play a single-game, knockout-round match at No. 3 seed Los Angeles Football Club on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. MDT. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
“I talked to a number of players throughout the game and after the game and they are obviously very excited. I’m excited. At the end of the day, this is a one-off game. So the excitement level has to be curbed a little bit and we have to be focused on what we have to do to get a result and have another game or two,” RSL coach Mike Petke said Sunday during an appearance on the "Counter Attack" show with Brian Dunseth and Jason Davis on Sirius XM Ch. 157.
RSL lost two games to Portland in October, sandwiched around a victory over New England, leaving its playoff hopes undetermined until the final day of the MLS regular season.
"Most of the game today, I was relying on my staff. I was in the other room. I had my staff over with their families for a barbecue to watch the game. I am a control freak," Petke said during the Sirius XM show. "So with something like this out of my control, it’s not easy to sit there and just watch the seconds tick away. So I was cooking on the barbecue and doing stuff with the kids and listening to their screams. Fate intervened."
Fate didn't appear to be in RSL's corner early, as Ola Kamara scored a pair of first-half goals for Los Angeles to give the Galaxy the upper hand on the playoff spot. Houston, though, began its rally in the 57th minute off a goal from Romell Quioto. Then, in the 73rd minute, Mauro Manotas knotted the score on a penalty kick.
Manotas scored again in the 79th minute, forcing Los Angeles to need to score twice to steal back the playoff spot. It didn’t happen, as the score held.
"I think we deserved 100 percent to be in the playoffs based off of the points we accumulated. Last year we missed it by one point," Petke said. "We got more points this year. The bar was raised as far as getting in the playoffs. I think my players deserve to be in the playoffs so we are ecstatic.”
Petke said the team prepared for a variety of scenarios in case a playoff berth came to fruition after the team ended its regular season with a 3-0 loss at Portland on Sunday, Oct. 21. Those scenarios included facing either LAFC, Seattle or Dallas in the knockout round.
"Those were the three likely candidates, with LAFC leading. So we prepared the heck out of them in training with exactly what we’d need to do and the players have responded. Now we have three more days to really harp on them so I think our players are prepared and they are going to be more prepared come game time,” the coach said.