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Real Salt Lake hoping to clinch playoff berth Sunday in Nick Rimando’s final home game

RSL can clinch a playoff berth in second-to-last game of the regular season with a win over already-eliminated Houston on Sunday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) tries to control the ball with Los Angeles Galaxy defender Dave Romney (4) on his back as Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) tries to control the ball with Los Angeles Galaxy defender Dave Romney (4) on his back as Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy play at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Each of the past two seasons, the final day of the MLS regular season has been stressful for Real Salt Lake.

Two years ago RSL won on the final day of the season but didn’t get the help it needed and missed out on the playoffs by a point, whereas last year it lost on the final day but still made the playoffs with favorable results elsewhere.

The final day of the regular season isn’t until next weekend, and Real Salt Lake would prefer to avoid another stressful MLS Decision Day and clinch a berth this weekend.

RSL can officially book its spot in the playoffs with a win over Houston at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday (5:30 p.m., KMYU).

There are scenarios RSL can still clinch with a tie and even a loss, if it gets favorable results in games involving Portland, FC Dallas and San Jose, but it’s all a moot point if Real Salt Lake wins.

If RSL clinches on Sunday, then next week’s season finale at Vancouver will be all about improving its seeding and trying to lock down a home playoff game awarded to the top four seeds.

Real Salt Lake currently occupies the fifth spot, three points behind fourth-place Seattle.

RSL has the easier remaining schedule of the two and if it finishes tied on points in the standings with Seattle, it would win the tiebreaker.

RSL defender Nedum Onuoha said the team will be very motivated on Sunday against Houston after its sloppy performance in a home loss to the Galaxy on Wednesday.

“We want to finish the regular season as strong as possible. We’ve gotten ourselves in such a great position to still technically be in the playoffs right now,” said Onuoha. “This is the first game of the season where we feel like this is a must-win. People are motivated because we want to give a better account of ourselves compared to today. When Sunday comes, we’ll be ready to go. We’ll take it right to Houston and see what we can do.”

Sunday is the home finale for Nick Rimando, who is retiring after the season.

“Two games to go, regardless of the results of those games I think I’m extremely happy of my career and what I’ve done not only on the field but off,” said Rimando when he addressed the media on Friday about his retirement. “One last home game, hopefully there’s another, but to have my friends and family fly in, over 50 of them, to be here with me one last game means a lot, and really looking forward to it.”

To get a result, RSL will need to be sharper in front of goal and defensively than it was against the Galaxy.

Despite Houston struggles — which includes a 3-11-1 record over the past 15 games — it will try to play spoiler just like a year ago. It was Houston’s upset win at the Galaxy on the final day of the season last year that secured RSL’s playoff berth.