Real Salt Lake did itself no favor Saturday night in Portland by going for a scoreless draw. The 0-0 tie at Jeld-Wen Field was basically RSL's way of saying they didn't care about winning the Supporters Shield; what was more important in their minds was making the playoffs.
That turned out to be fuzzy logic, considering RSL got what it needed in the Shield race because Seattle lost and the LA Galaxy tied. The Sounders and LA now have zero chance of winning the Shield -- and only four teams remain in the hunt (NY, Sporting KC, Portland and RSL).
Let's give you another for-instance: Had Real Salt Lake won in Portland, the claret and cobalt would now be tied with the New York Red Bulls for first place, the only difference in winning the Shield would then be the extra win the Bulls currently have over RSL. (Total wins is the first tie-breaker in the Shield race.)
With Real Salt Lake entertaining a very beatable team in Chivas USA and the Red Bulls facing off against playoff-hungry Chicago, exactly who would have had the better odds of getting to the CONCACAF Champions League?
Instead, RSL now sits three points back of New York and now needs a ton of help to win the Shield, which I'll explain later in this article.
For Real Salt Lake, the Shield is their second in three tries to get back to CONCACAF Champions League (they lost in the U.S. Open Cup final as you know; and winning MLS Cup is the third way).
If RSL squander this Supporters' Shield opportunity (and then the playoffs), the team stands to lose a lot more than just a way back to Major League Soccer elite status.
Head coach Jason Kreis is entertaining offers from New York City FC, GM Garth Lagerwey has an offer on the table to be Toronto FC's new GM and there are several RSL veterans who are probably getting to the ends of their careers, which means it may soon be time to rebuild.
You already know about the myriad front office changes the club has underwent since Dell Loy Hansen took over as the RSL's owner, replacing David Checketts -- and buying out the remainder of Checketts' shares in the team.
But these two chances -- the Shield being the most realistic, frankly, besides winning MLS Cup -- don't come around very often. Catching lightning in a bottle is not easy if your payroll is at a fraction of the rest of the league's elite.
As for Real Salt Lake as a team, the claret and cobalt has now scored four goals in the past six games. This is from the same team that leads Major League Soccer in scoring with 55 -- yet hasn't scored more than one goal in any match since August 30.
So what are the chances now of Real Salt Lake getting the Supporters Shield? Glad you asked that...Here we go...
New York Red Bulls - 56 points
Final regular season opponent: vs Chicago Fire (Sunday Oct. 27)
The Red Bulls simply aren't letting off the accelerator at this point, having earned a result (a win or tie) in seven straight matches. There is no New York/New Jersey MetroStars letdown of old here; New York has simply been clinical in its dispatching of teams -- especially Houston, which it has beaten 4-1 and 3-0.
Five goals in two games tells you that the Red Bulls, even with all of its hyped, overpriced talent, is the team to beat as we head into the playoffs.
But, a crucial game remains with the Chicago Fire, a team facing a do-or-die situation because New England and Houston are breathing down the Fire's necks (just one point off Chicago).
Also, the Fire and tied with Montreal for the third and fourth spots -- and the Eastern Conference only hands out five. That means somebody is going to be knocked out.
How can they help Real Salt Lake:
By simply losing to Chicago, pure and simply put -- and not scoring more than three goals even if they lose. If RSL were to then win -- and Portland lost or tied and Sporting KC lost or tied, then Real Salt Lake would be crowned your Shield winner.
Sporting Kansas City - 55 points
Final regular season opponent: At Philadelphia (Sat. Oct. 26)
Sporting KC is kind of in the same predicament as Real Salt Lake at this point, because they aren't putting the ball in the net either.
That said, SKC hasn't lost a game since late September when ironically enough they lost to the same team, the Philadelphia Union, that they're playing against on Saturday in the regular season finale.
That game, a 1-0 loss, was in Kansas City; this game, however, is at PPL Park in Philadelphia which is not the friendliest place to play and much will be on the line as the Union are still fighting for a playoff spot too, needing a win on Saturday.
SKC is guaranteed a playoff spot and also will play a CONCACAF Champions League game at home Wed. Oct. 22 versus a very game Olimpia (the Honduran champion), needing a tie to advance.
What that means is simple: SKC have two big games to play in less than one week. This is not an ideal situation for any team, let alone Sporting Kansas City.
So their luck could go one of two ways: they could beat or tie Olimpia -- guaranteeing them safe passage into the CCL quarters -- and have momentum going into what could be a Shield clincher at Philly (if the Red Bulls lose or tie).
Now, if they lose to Olimpia...that opens the door for all kinds of issues at Philly on Saturday because they'd be knocked out of CCL play AND have to fight to get back to full strength mentally by Saturday.
How they can help Real Salt Lake:
They need to lose or tie at Philadelphia the Red Bulls need to lose and Portland needs to lose or tie.
Portland Timbers - 54 points
Final regular season opponent: At Chivas USA (Sat. Oct. 26)
Portland is coming off of an emotional scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake at home. The Timbers did about as well as they could have hoped last Saturday against a veteran RSL side that usually gives everyone fits.
As of now, Portland leads the Western Conference by one point over RSL, the Timbers have clinched a playoff spot and the team has its sights set on its chainsaw south towards Los Angeles where they'll play Chivas USA in the regular season finale.
This game has "trap game" written all over it for several reasons. First, Portland and the Goats played to a 1-1 tie last month at the Stub Hub/Home Depot/Whatever Center in L.A.; second is both teams are quite chippy and the Goats would love nothing more than to finish out a week humiliating two Western Conference nemeses who were already playoff bound in RSL and the Timbers.
Chivas USA has nothing to lose -- and Portland has only scored six goals in the past six games, still better than RSL -- but not by much.
How can they help Real Salt Lake:
If RSL wins Wednesday and Portland loses or ties at Chivas USA, RSL wins the Western Conference. For the Shield, however, RSL needs New York to lose, Sporting KC to lose or tie and Portland to lose or tie.
Real Salt Lake - 53 points
Final regular season opponent: vs Chivas USA (Wed. Oct. 23)
After going for the tie at Portland, Real Salt Lake now must take care of business at home against a Chivas USA team that will probably be looking to annoy the claret and cobalt every chance they get.
That's because RSL has owned the Goats this season, winning both contests -- one by a lopsided 4-1 margin (video attached).
Everyone thinks this will be an easy win for RSL on Wednesday -- but perhaps they don't know or understand how "trap games" work.
They should; RSL just played one a few weeks ago in the U.S. Open Cup Final when everyone in the galaxy was assured of a Real Salt Lake victory -- and D.C. United walked out of Rio Tinto Stadium with the hardware.
It's been well documented that RSL is having trouble scoring right now and so it would be nice for the claret and cobalt to show people who is ready for the playoffs. At Portland, RSL showed it could play to not lose a game -- and it didn't show much else. So a big performance is in order here.
How they can help themselves:
Just win, baby, and hope that the other teams do what RSL needs them to do, which is help them out a ton.