Major League Soccer’s playoff race heading into the regular season’s final week is easily the tightest in league history. The Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, though, are no strangers to late-season tension.
In one of many meaningful games this week, the Rapids look to avoid being eliminated from playoff contention by Salt Lake for the third straight year Saturday night.
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More than 50 different postseason scenarios are possible this week, with 12 of the 15 teams having clinched a playoff spot or still in the running for one.
Through the past year of playoffs in the four major sports, only the NHL had a final week anywhere near as undecided, with 57 percent of its teams either having clinched or still contending.
Colorado (10-9-10), the No. 5 team in the Western Conference with 40 points, only needs to defeat Salt Lake (10-12-7) to make the playoffs.
If the Rapids lose, however, they can still make it with a two-goal or better defeat and two of these four teams with 39 points – Toronto FC, New England, D.C. United and FC Dallas – win. With a draw, Colorado can still reach the postseason if all of the teams lose or tie, or if any one of the four win.
“I don’t know every possible situation,” Rapids defenseman Pablo Mastroeni said. “The extent of my knowledge is if we win, we solidify a spot. If we tie, then we’re basically hoping two or three teams on the other side lose or tie. That’s all I know.”
Salt Lake, meanwhile, needs to defeat Colorado and hope that no more than one of the teams with 39 points wins. Unless all off four clubs lose, Salt Lake will likely need to beat the Rapids by more than one score because its current plus-5 goal differential could help its cause in a tiebreaker.
Salt Lake made the playoffs last season in dramatic fashion, getting a goal from Yura Movsisyan in the 90th minute to tie Colorado 1-all on Oct. 25 and eliminate the Rapids. In 2007, Salt Lake didn’t have a chance to make the postseason, but Robbie Findley scored in the 87th minute to knock Colorado out with a 1-0 victory Oct. 20.
Those matches, both of which were in Colorado, left the Rapids out of the playoffs in two straight years for the first time in their history.
Colorado has gone winless in its last six matches overall (0-2-4) and is 0-5-4 on the road since a 3-2 win at New York on May 30. The Rapids lost 2-1 at FC Dallas last Saturday night in their latest letdown.
Salt Lake hasn’t fared much better of late, going 1-3-1 after winning its previous two. It has been shut out in two of its last three games, including a 1-0 defeat at Toronto FC last Saturday.
“I feel like we have let too many opportunities go by this season and put ourselves in this position because of dropping games that we should have won because we didn’t take care of business,” Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said.
Salt Lake tied Colorado 1-all at home June 6, but lost 2-0 on the road May 2.