In 2009, Real Salt Lake made the playoffs with fewer points than the rest of the teams to advance from the regular season. They were strong at home but not great on the road with Kyle Beckerman patrolling the midfield and Nick Rimando between the posts. Nine years later, any of this sound familiar?
Of course, that '09 RSL team is relevant for their improbable run to hoisting MLS Cup, beating LA Galaxy in a penalty-kick shootout in the final. Nobody gave that team a chance, the same way no one is giving the 2018 RSL team a chance. In fact, they were overlooked to even make the playoffs, as it seemed a foregone conclusion the Galaxy would beat the Houston Dynamo at home, much before the LA took a 2-0 lead into halftime.
But, as fate would have it, the Galaxy was unable to see out the final 45, allowing RSL to retain the Western Conference's final playoff place. With 49 points, they enter the Audi 2018 MLS Cup playoffs with less than the other 11 playoffs teams. Their -3 goal differential is also worst for teams still alive.
Can they stun the league again?
In 2009, the Knockout Round had yet to be instituted. RSL entered directly into a home-and-home aggregate series for the first round, helping to nullify their poor away form initially, but the Conference Finals and MLS Cup Final were on the road. RSL prevailed both times after penalties.
On Thursday against LAFC (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMas, TVAS, TSN3), RSL will have to do the business on the road. The last time they played at The Banc of California Stadium, they lost 2-0 in August. They haven't beat a team that qualified for the playoffs since the beginning of July, when they defeated Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas in back-to-back games.
But, they have rest on their side. Being the only team to sit out Decision Day presented by AT&T, RSL enter Thursday's encounter with ample time off while LAFC are coming off a hard-fought loss to SKC just a few days prior.
The odds are against them, but don't completely write RSL off just yet. Crazier things have happened.