MLS Playoffs: Real Salt Lake, the ultimate underdog, does it again

Real Salt Lake was seconds away from being eliminated from the MLS playoffs on Decision Day when it scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to defeat Sporting Kansas City, 1-0, and advance as the No. 7 seed.

On Tuesday, RSL didn't get off a shot in 120 minutes but moved into the Western Conference semifinals when it beat the Seattle Sounders, 6-5, in a shootout.

And on Sunday, the improbable happened again as RSL returned to Kansas City and came back from a goal down in the first half to beat Sporting KC, 2-1. Again, the winner came in second-half stoppage time.

Second-half RSL substitutes Anderson Julio and Bobby Wood (photo) each scored, and Wood's winner 23 seconds into what was slated to be two minutes of stoppage time was set up by a long run by the third second-half sub, Justin Meram, from midfield into the penalty area.

The goal was RSL's eighth goal of the season after 90 minutes and moved it into the Western Conference final on Saturday at Portland's Providence Park against the Timbers.

The comeback victory was the latest twist in what has been 15 months of upheaval for RSL.

Since the beginning of the year, MLS has been trying to sell the club and other assets associated with it since owner Dell Loy Hansen walked away after allegations of ongoing racist behavior were made and the league launched an investigation into RSL.

Without an owner, RSL's spending has been limited, and almost no one gave it a chance to make the playoffs. Things looked bright until its head coach, Freddy Juarez, left on Aug. 27 with the team in sixth place. Days later, it was revealed that he left to take a job as an assistant coach at Seattle.

And Real Salt Lake was one of several MLS clubs impacted by the ongoing pandemic in the playoffs as its playmaker and captain, Slovakian international Albert Rusnak, has missed both playoff games due to health and safety protocols after missing just 15 minutes during the 34-game regular season.

When Juarez left, assistant Pablo Mastroeni was installed as interim coach. He says the team's underdog mentality was formed in preseason.

“When everyone picks you to finish bottom of the West and probably one of the bottom two teams in the league, you have a chip on your shoulder," he said on Sunday. "These guys are professional athletes that make a living proving people wrong. Have we harnessed that? I think so, but we have also put in the work. We also have a lot of belief and I think we play some good stuff."

And that was evident on Sunday when RSL came out in the second half and was the better team.

"The culmination of all of the things that happened during the season prepared us mentally and tactically for moments like tonight," Mastroeni added. "The guys went down a goal and away from home it’s easy to get loose and chase it. But we stayed the course, followed the game plan and the guys made plays in the second half. That’s a testament to the character of these players and guys that really strive to be a part of something greater than themselves with this team.”

Nov. 28 in Kansas City, Kan.
Sporting KC 1 Real Salt Lake 2. Goals: Russell pen. 24; Julio (Brody) 72, Wood (Meram) 90+1.
Sporting KC -- Melia; Fontas, Zusi, Isimat-Mirin, Walter, Sanchez, Kinda (Espinoza 70), Pulido (Shelton 73), Salloi, Russell.
Real Salt Lake -- Ochoa; Herrera, Glad, Silva, Brody; Everton Luiz, Ruiz, Menendez (Julio 57), Kreilach, Chang (Meram 57); Rubin (Wood 71).
Att.: 21,650.

Photo: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire

10 comments about "MLS Playoffs: Real Salt Lake, the ultimate underdog, does it again".
  1. humble 1, November 29, 2021 at 9:02 a.m.

    What a dribble then pass by Meram and run and shot by Boby Wood, KC have to be kicking themsleves for their failure effort on that entire sequence especially effort and failure to challenge the ball
    and giving too much space.  Complete
    lack of respect, exactly what Ochao predicted.  The evolution of KC to start only two
    American, not working out.  RSL started only four Americans.  I watched Plameiras v Flamingo in the Copa Finals.  Each started 9 Brazilians in Uruguay.  Brazilian Serie A roster can only have 5
    foreign players.  Wake up MLS, our regions gold standard is not Liga MX it is Brazil Serie A.  

  2. frank schoon replied, November 29, 2021 at 12:16 p.m.

    Humble, that was a simple move by Miram that you rarely see from flank players. I call it a one-two which I teach in different variations of it as well.. That particular move became the rage in Holland when I was a kid playing street soccer.... Another way of doing it to push the ball with a slow pace with the inside of the left diagonally forwards to the right. You make it slow in order for the opponent to pay attention to it than increase the acceleration of the ball once you hit with the right foot....This is the problem today which players are not taught one on one principles of beating a man, because the coaches today lack technical ability and insight.

    Totally forgot about Bobby Woods, who played in Germany and the NT and now is a sub....That goal he scored was actually a deflection off the inside of his foot...

  3. humble 1 replied, November 30, 2021 at 10:28 a.m.

    You are so right Frank.  Simple move, worked like a charm.  Everyone wants to play linear here, one-direction, but it is technique and change of direction/pace that get you space, right?  Of course, players must develop their actions / movements in game contexts, be it free or organized play.  This was the case here.  Development of techinque can continue well beyond the youth age limit of U19.  More Americans would have the opportunity to develop such skills if we were to adopt the Brazilian model limiting foreign roster spots to five in MLS and USL.  I am pretty sure this model is universally employed in South America, as watching CONMEBOL league games it is common to see only a couple of foreigners on the pitch at a time.  Currently the bulk of goals are scored by foreign players in D1 and D2 soccer in the US.  Would love to see this change, but it will be very difficult if most forward and midfield players have to compete with 25 to 30 year old European and South American players that developed in their home leagues with foreign roster limits.  Back to work.  Have a great day!     

  4. frank schoon replied, December 1, 2021 at 8:40 a.m.

    Humble, this is what I miss in today's soccer. We no longer teach the basics because coaches today ,themselves, never were brought up with it.  Notice the players come off the field wearing a special bra for computer data, that shows the total distance he ran, what part of the field he was, where most of the shots taking,blah, blah ,blah. We have literally created laptop coaches who can't teach sh*t with a ball. What is so ironic, taking into account today's technology, it was a simple move that I learned 65 years ago in the streets of Amsterdam, that was the game winner....

    As one former great of dutch soccer stated recently is that are beginning to lose the essentials of soccer. So much garbage has been introduced to soccer that we really don't need and just stick with essentials and we'll be just fine.....

  5. humble 1 replied, December 1, 2021 at 9:39 a.m.

    Mr Frank, there are good coaches and good clubs here.  They are the exceptions.  One of the unintended side effects of pay-to-play soccer - too many coaches here without passion for the game, because, it is their living.  The very best coaches/trainers for my son all come from abroad, where it is passion that drives players up the soccer ladder.  One from Hungary, one from Mexico, one from Ghana and one from Columbia and of course, several from Uruguay.  We have only one American in the group.  My son's current coach.  We did have a coach from Holland, sorry mate, he was in it for the money.  Something interesting about all of these top coaches, that influence my player in such a positive way, including his current coach, they cannot find success in the legacy pay-to-play country club soccer platforms.  They all, to a man, strike out on their own.  Their passion is too great and it is greater than the lust for money.  This is soccer my friend, and this is the big 'lomo' for youth soccer in the USA.  Cheers!

  6. frank schoon replied, December 1, 2021 at 10:53 a.m.

    Humble, Your son at least had some foreign influences especially from South America where technique is still seen an important element of learning. And this Dutch guy as so many of todays coaches are taught and trained the NON ESSENTIALS of the game and that is I'm afraid what being taught. I try to stay away from American coaches for they are too programmed....

  7. frank schoon replied, December 1, 2021 at 1:07 p.m.

    Humble, this is the  guy, Faas Wilkes, that my favorite as well as Cruyff's .He was Hollands best player...he later went to play in Italy and Spain where he chosen the best player over Distefano...

    This is how everyone in Holland copied his one-two move....

    Skills of Faas Wilkes - YouTube 

  8. frank schoon replied, December 1, 2021 at 1:13 p.m.

    Humble ,try this one 

    Faas Wilkes - YouTube

  9. Donald Lee, November 29, 2021 at 8:29 p.m.

    Frank Schoon.  You need to watch the Bobby Woods goal more carefully.

  10. frank schoon replied, November 29, 2021 at 8:37 p.m.

    Watched it again . He leg was stationary , not moving and allowed it to deflect off his foot

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