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Real Salt Lake 'deserved' final playoff spot, only looking forward

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke signals during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Colorado Rapids, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke signals during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Colorado Rapids, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Jack Dempsey, FR42408 AP

HERRIMAN — Real Salt Lake needed help to qualify for the playoffs on the final day of the season, but that’s just fine with Mike Petke. All he cares about is that RSL finished one point ahead of the L.A. Galaxy in the standings for the final playoff spot.

“It felt good because we deserve it. We had more wins than them, I feel we have a better team than them, we’ve played better than them. To come down to the last day I think it was justified,” Petke said following Monday’s training session.

As for Los Angeles’ other MLS team, RSL’s opponent in Thursday’s one-game playoff (8:30 p.m., ESPN2), it’s pretty clear who the best team was in 2018.

LAFC was in the hunt for the Western Conference title until the final weekend of the season, and could’ve clinched it with a win at Kansas City. Instead the expansion squad qualified as the West’s No. 3 seed and should be full of confidence heading into the playoffs after sweeping Real Salt Lake this season.

It rolled to a 5-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 10, and then more recently at the brand new Banc of California Stadium, it prevailed 2-0 on Aug. 15.

“We are by far the underdog in this game, not only by seeding but by the two games that we played this year, where they finished. If you put all that together, we’re the underdog,” said Petke. “But it’s a one off game. We know how talented they are. We’re not fearful of them. We’re very respectful of their capabilities.”

Kyle Beckerman said he was excited when the playoff draw was finalized and RSL was matched up against LAFC in the opener.

“We feel like we haven’t shown our best against them, they haven’t seen what we’re really capable of. We were excited when we saw it was them,” said Beckerman. “We feel like it’s going to be extremely tough, they’re a really good team and they have got the better of us, but there’s no reason why we can’t change things.”

Brooks Lennon watched Houston’s come-from-behind win over the Galaxy at home on Sunday, and when the final whistle blew there was no feeling of backing into the playoffs after getting help on the final day.

“All the hard work we put in all season and the results that we’ve gotten I think we deserve to be in that sixth spot,” said Lennon.

Lennon’s career trajectory was forever altered in that first LAFC game. With RSL trailing 3-1 in the second half, Petke inserted Lennon into the game at right back mostly to get another attacking option on the field.

Lennon showed well enough with his defensive abilities in that half hour that Petke explored using the youngster at right back in future games because of injuries, and it’s a starting spot he never relinquished.

His reward is the first playoff start of his career under the lights in Los Angeles with a nationally televised audience tuning in. It’s an opportunity he believes RSL is ready for.

“I don’t feel like we’re the underdog at all, no one in the entire season was undefeated, so any team can be beaten. We did well this season, hopefully we can take the goods into Thursday night and work on the bads before then and get sorted out,” said Lennon.