SANDY — The only thing on the line for Real Salt Lake in Sunday’s regular-season finale against West-leading Kansas City is pride.
The club was officially eliminated from playoff contention with last weekend’s loss at Los Angeles, and now Decision Day is meaningless, an extremely rare situation for RSL.
In Real Salt Lake’s first three seasons from 2005 to 2007, it missed the playoffs each year but was never in a situation where a win on the final day would’ve clinched a playoff spot.
In 11 of the 12 years since, however, RSL has always had something meaningful to play for on the final day of the regular season, whether it was playoff seeding or a playoff berth.
The lone season out of that dozen where that wasn’t the case was back in 2015 when RSL finished in ninth place in the Western Conference and 10 points out of a playoff spot.
Despite everything that’s gone wrong for RSL, which currently sits in 11th place in the West, coach Freddy Juarez believes it’s important his team puts the right foot forward in the finale (4:30 p.m. MST, KMYU).
“We have to finish the race on the right mentality, we owe it to the fans, we owe it to ourselves. We’re not the victims of a tough 2020 year. We’re at home, we want to finish on the right foot,” said Juarez.
The match will be the finale for defender Nedum Onuoha, who announced he’s retiring at the end of the season. Albert Rusnak won’t play either as he has very meaningful games with the Slovakian National Team beginning next week.
Another unknown player will also miss the match after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday. RSL announced that all other first team players and staff returned consecutive negative tests, which means the game can proceed on Sunday.
Real Salt Lake only had one match canceled this season because of COVID-19, an Oct. 18 game at Colorado. Had that game been played and had RSL won, perhaps its playoff fate might be different this weekend.
With how the club has limped toward the finish line, the outcome might not have been favorable anyway as RSL is 1-5-2 over its past eight games with six goals scored and 12 conceded.
“There’s been a little bit of a scoring drought, and that’s the first thing we’re focusing on, just to get goals and get something for the fans,” said defender Justen Glad. “Have that energy and excitement for them, and of course just getting the W. That’s always important to us. It would be nice to finish the season on a high note as an organization.”
A win could vault RSL to as high as ninth place in the West, whereas a loss and it may end up finishing in very last place.