SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake went out on Wednesday night and did exactly what they needed to do – beat Chivas USA.
Now the Claret-and-Cobalt, the only MLS team that isn't playing this weekend, can sit back and watch what happens with the rest of the league, and three games in particular that will decide if they win the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield, which all remain within reach.
But if those three games break Salt Lake's way, don't suggest to head coach Jason Kreis that his team has somehow backed into anything.
“I don't understand,” he said, seemingly flabbergasted by the notion of backing into a Supporters' Shield title. “Do you have the points or do you not have the points? Do you do the work over an entire season or do you not do the work over an entire season?”
It is true, however, that at this point RSL can do nothing to affect the outcome of either race. To win the conference, Portland must lose or tie at Chivas USA on Saturday. To win the Shield, the Portland game has to go RSL's way; Sporting Kansas City must lose or tie at Philadelphia on Saturday; and New York must lose to Chicago on Sunday.
“Stranger things have happened,” said veteran RSL defender Chris Wingert.
The only certainty is that Kreis will be in front of the TV watching “every minute of every game,” as will most of his team.
“I’m going to be watching all of the games and I’m excited to see what happens this weekend,” said defender Nat Borchers. “If it happens for us, great. But if not, we have put ourselves in a good position to make a run here.”
At this point, the worst-case scenario for RSL is hardly bad. The team cannot finish any lower than second place in the Western Conference or any lower than fourth overall.
That means, in turn, that Kreis and RSL will also be waiting to see how the conference race ends and who they'll face in the first round of the MLS playoffs.
- Get more RSL news and notes at RealSaltLake.com
Predictably, the Salt Lake coach did not express a preference.
“All of them have given us a fair amount of trouble this year,” he said. “I think all of them have extremely dangerous players. I think all of them are extremely well coached and can be difficult to break down. So for me, it doesn't matter.
“We've got to beat them all. To be champions, you've got to beat the best, so bring 'em on.”