After a heartbreaking loss to Toronto FC last weekend, there was little doubt that RSL's season would end without a playoff berth. Five teams had already locked in a spot to the big dance and Real found themselves at the bottom of a pile of seven other teams competing for the three remaining spots. Chicago took care of securing one of those on Thursday night be defeating Chivas USA 1-0 and locking up the #2 seed in the east. Things were not looking promising for Salt Lake faithful. I’ll confess I had given up hope and was just praying we could deny The Crapids a playoff shot as well.
When the game finally got underway I was immediately impressed by the passion the players were showing. I found myself thinking they finally found some heart when it is too late to matter. Boy was I wrong. Two minutes into the match Salt Lake had already had 2 dangerous chances and were looking like a team possessed, despite my best efforts I started to believe in them again. For the first time in nearly two weeks I started to hope that a miracle could happen.
Then, with a simple header by Robbie Findley, my hope sprouted wings. Will Johnson tracked down a cleared corner kick and toe-poked it to Andy Williams who played a wonderful ball to Fabian Espindola at the far post. Fabian did an excellent job of playing the ball into a dangerous spot, chipping it over Colorado keeper Presto Burpo and right to the head of Robbie Findley who calmly knocked it into the net. Over the last year we have seen several important goals at Rio Tinto but this one may have done more to energize the crowd than any other. I decided to check scores around the league and see what our chances were and immediately noticed two improbable score lines. New York who had only won four games to date had notched a fifth win by beating Toronto FC 5-0 and Kansas who had also seen their playoff chances dashed a few weeks back were up on DC United by a goal at halftime.
My Man of the Match, Nick Rimando, was tested a few times after that before Real could find the net again. Rimando made two great saves to preserve the 1-0 lead with a little help from Nat Borchers who got his foot in on a point blank shot from Conor Casey that skied over the post.
In the 33rd minute Andy Williams found Robbie Findley again and after a great piece of individual effort by Findley to beat Burpo, Real Salt Lake found themselves up by two. Findley received the ball streaking towards the penalty box with one Colorado defender on his back. Robbie used his first touch to chip the ball over Burpo who came all the way out of the box to meet him and his second touch put the ball on an empty net to give Salt Lake the insurance goal.
The game evolved into a back and forth affair after that with both teams getting some chances and both teams taking some dirty shots at each other showcasing the type of rivalry this has been. By the time they went to half both teams had received two yellow cards and the people around me were starting to question who would get a red card first.
The second half picked up were the first left off with Colorado pushing and Salt Lake content to sit back a bit and counter attack. Kreis brought in the usual suspects with Findley being replaced by Yura Movsisyan, Williams came out for Ned Grabavoy, and shortly thereafter Espindola was replaced by Clint Mathis. With Andy’s creative play and Findley’s speed out the game slowed down for Salt Lake and other than Yura and Javier Morales it was rare to see Salt Lake attackers get into the Colorado box. Between those two, RSL was able to maintain enough pressure to keep the Rapids from pushing too hard and eventually they managed to score when the Colorado defense fell asleep a little. Yura received the ball from Morales and managed to fake his defender toward the middle before cutting it outside about 10 yards from goal. His shot beating Burpo to the far post was brilliant and the game was never in question again.
As the match ended, the Rocky Mountain Cup was secured, and it looked like the playoffs might be too. With Kansas pulling out a 2-2 draw with DC United, RSL found themselves in need of just one more positive result out of the two remaining games and thanks to some great play by the Seattle Sounders before the night was over RSL players and fans knew that the playoffs were coming to Salt Lake again.