SANDY, Utah -- Real Salt Lake got a measure of redemption Tuesday night, after two home losses last week eliminated them from the race for the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
They did it by advancing to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League after a 1-0 victory over Guatemalan club Municipal. The result gives RSL momentum and something extra to focus on heading into the offseason.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman made one big lap around Rio Tinto Stadium after Tuesday's final whistle blew. He gave high fives to every fan that could make it down to the first row to show his appreciation for their support all season long.
"I just felt like doing it this year,” Beckerman said in the locker room after the game. “They've been really great to us since the start and before I got here. We know it's a tough year for everyone. It was just a thank-you for them."
The 2015 season was unusually up-and-down for the usually steady club. Despite negative results that culminated with Saturday's loss to FC Dallas and many questions surrounding the club heading into the offseason, this result gives Salt Lake something to build on.
"It's sad, because we're out of the playoffs,” defender Jamison Olave said. “We lost two games in a row, but we needed [this]. We needed to move forward. It's a different tournament. I feel if we want to advance to the next round, we need to clean our mind and clean up the form on the field, and that's what we did."
Olave’s 43rd-minute goal was all it took to snatch the win over Municipal and secure passage to the quarterfinals with 10 points, potentially enough to earn home-field advantage in the quarterfinals. Olave put a well-placed header past Municipal goalkeeper Paulo Motta, and Nick Rimando turned aside the visitors' few threatening efforts in the rest of the match.
RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said the promise of the upcoming quarterfinals will help the team stay focused during the offseason.
"It means a lot to me personally, but the most important thing is for the players and for this club,” Cassar said. “It's an opportunity to keep going. When you're in the quarters, you're technically six games away from winning the championship. Now in the offseason, we have our eyes on something at the beginning of the year next year. I think that's going to help everyone not get over this year, but really start to focus on next year with a positive note."
"I think it's just big for us moving forward and starting to rebuild this club,” Beckerman added. “We're going to need some of that [allocation] money that we will get for this, so that will help us, but it's all about rebuilding for next year. We'll give it a go in the quarterfinals. It makes it fun, and preseason will be a little shorter and we'll get into some games."