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Real Salt Lake travels to Minnesota, aiming for another strong defensive match and road result

San Jose Earthquakes forward Cristian Espinoza (10) tries to get at the ball as Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (18) kicks it during the Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes game at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. RSL won 1-0.
San Jose Earthquakes forward Cristian Espinoza (10) tries to get at the ball as Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (18) kicks it during the Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes game at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. RSL won 1-0.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — The second-best home record in MLS is the biggest reason behind Real Salt Lake’s ascension to second place in the Western Conference. Ultimately though, how the club navigates its final three road games will determine if it can hang onto that ideal playoff seed.

Three of Real Salt Lake’s final five games are on the road, beginning with Sunday’s critical match at fourth-place Minnesota United (KMYU, 3 p.m.).

In the tightly packed West, Minnesota sits just two points behind RSL — and only four points separate seeds No. 2 through 8.

After grinding out a critical home win against San Jose on Wednesday with a patchwork front line, RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez should have a full complement of players to select from on Sunday.

Among them is Albert Rusnak, who missed Wednesday’s match as he was traveling back from Europe after a pair of Euro qualifying matches with Slovakia.

“We definitely need a result in Minnesota, obviously we will go for the three points and we want the three points … but it’s about when you play against teams like Minnesota who are right behind you, it’s about them not getting the points and coming on top of you,” said Rusnak.

A tie on Sunday guarantees that RSL remains in a top four spot heading into next weekend’s tough road trip to New England.

Real Salt Lake’s road performances over the past two months have been pretty good, but the results have been mixed with a 1-2-2 record over the past five games. The most encouraging thing about those recent road performances is that RSL hasn’t allowed more than one goal in any of those matches.

“It’s not easy, but our job will be to keep that going defensively as a team and then of course we’ll be looking to score some goals,” said Rusnak.

That’s going to be the key as RSL has scored just four goals in its past seven matches.

Sunday will be the second meeting of the season between the two clubs, with the teams sharing the points in a 1-1 tie at Rio Tinto Stadium back on July 20.

Minnesota has been one of the surprise teams in MLS, and has only lost once at home with an 8-1-5 record, but RSL defender Aaron Herrera said his team is confident heading into the big weekend match.

“They’ve been hot all year, but we do think we’re a better team than them and we can go there and definitely steal some points,” said Herrera.

Two weeks ago Minnesota earned a huge win at Los Angeles FC, handing the league’s best team just its fourth loss of the season. Strangely though, Minnesota followed it up by laying an egg in a shutout loss at Houston on Wednesday, as both teams are feeling the urgency of points late in the season.