With 23 teams in MLS, one club was going to be stuck with the displeasure of sitting out Decision Day presented by AT&T. It's just math.
The math, teamed with scheduling randomness, has done Real Salt Lake no favors, as they pack their final two matches of the season in a 72-hour span from Thursday to Sunday. Even worse, battling with the LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps for the final playoff place in the Western Conference, RSL may have to wait and see if their work was enough to make the playoffs.
"It's going to take two wins, that's how we're looking at it," Corey Baird told MLSsoccer.com. "I think we're capable of it. Everyone is looking forward to these games, basically we've got to prove we're a playoff team by beating a playoff team in Portland."
On Thursday, they host the New England Revolution (9 pm ET | TV & streaming info) for their home finale before traveling to Portland on Sunday (5 pm ET | TV & streaming info). For the first of their final two games, head coach Mike Petke may be unable to start a trio of attackers used during the international break, as Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino returned from international duty on Wednesday.
"It's definitely something where we wish they were here training with us rather than an inter-Atlantic flight," Baird said. "But that's part of it, it's why we have a deep team. Some guys are going to get minutes that haven't gotten minutes before and I think that's a good thing. They're going to be ready to go, fighting for a spot."
To stack another inconvenience on RSL's plate, Sunny and Kyle Beckerman are suspended for Thursday's match due to yellow card accumulation. Baird, a favorite for Rookie of the Year, will be one of the players leaned on against the Revs.
"Coming in, I was expecting to get more minutes with the Monarchs or hoping to get some time off the bench," Baird said. "But I was lucky enough to get that opportunity early on in the season and run with it. That gave me a lot of confidence that they trusted me with those minutes, that's helped me a lot."
Baird has played in 29 games for RSL this season, starting 20, contributing seven goals and four assists. Not bad for someone who was just hoping to get a few chances. But, he knew as early as preseason that he belonged at this level, a player who could be a regular contributor to a playoff-caliber team.
"With the amount of academy guys that we have and the amount of games they played, in the back of my mind I was always like 'I know I can do this.' It was just about performing," Baird said.
While they may be playoff-caliber, RSL have work to do to actually play playoff soccer. If they win their last two games, they're in; if they drop points, they're doomed to be glued to the TV, hoping other results go their way.
"It kind of sucks that we're just going to be watching," Baird said. "But then again, if we do our job, we should be sitting comfortably watching these games and have nothing to worry about."