Playoff spot on the line Sunday for Real Salt Lake in season finale at Portland

Playoff spot on the line Sunday for Real Salt Lake in season finale at Portland

SANDY — After recovering from a dramatic 4-1 loss to Portland with its own fulfilling 4-1 rout of New England, Real Salt Lake recovered a little bit of its lost swagger in its chase for the final berth in the MLS Cup playoffs.

RSL (14-12-7, 49 points) can assure itself of postseason qualification Sunday with a win over the Timbers at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon (3 p.m. MDT, and KSL TV app).

It’s that simple: win, and you’re in.

“The destiny is in our hands still, and we’ll see what happens,” RSL coach Mike Petke said after last Thursday’s win. “The next two days aren’t about on the field; it’s all about talking them into the game, preparing mentally, making sure these guys bounce back physically, and I don’t think there needs to be much motivation in these guys.

“They understand it’s the last game of the season, and we have a great opportunity ahead of us.”

The L.A. Galaxy (12-11-9, 45 points) is RSL’s biggest threat to that playoff berth, but the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led rivals are four points back with a game in hand on RSL. If RSL loses and Los Angeles wins both Sunday at Minnesota and next week at Houston, the Galaxy will take the No. 6 seed from the Western Conference into the postseason.

Salt Lake can also clinch a spot with a series of other scenarios — but warning: they get complicated.

See the point?

Win, and you’re in.

RSL will be aided by the return of midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Sunny Stephens from yellow-card suspension, and recent internationals Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata did not play Thursday after returning from international duty the day before with Slovakia, Venezuela and Ecuador, respectively.

The season may depend on it.

Defender debut

Thursday marked the MLS debut of new Salt Lake defender Chinedum Onouha, who started in relief of center back Justen Glad.

The former Premier League center back made his first start in an RSL uniform, and though he started shakily — he committed a foul in the box that led to a penalty for New England, but goalkeeper Nick Rimando made a stellar save — the 31-year-old from Warri, Nigeria, saved face and earned his first assist when he relayed Sebastian Saucedo’s corner kick to Damir Kreilach for a goal in the second half.

“We’re a team, and even though guys aren’t playing games today, we’re training together every day,” RSL forward Corey Baird said Thursday. “No matter who comes into the lineup, I don’t think there’s a chemistry issue. We do a good job of getting people in and integrating people into the team.

“It’s a credit to the coaching staff. It’s a credit to the veterans on our team, and how they get people assimilated into our team.”

Monarchs end season

RSL’s second-division side Real Monarchs SLC were eliminated from the USL Cup playoffs Saturday evening with a 1-0 loss to Reno 1868 FC at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman.

The Monarchs finished the season with a USL-best 13-3-2 record at home, but were unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the second-straight year.

Reno defender Stanley Okumu scored in the second minute of stoppage time, sending home an announced crowd of 3,000 fans with disappointment to spare.

Saturday was also the last match for Monarchs forward Chandler Hoffman, who has signed a contract for the 2019 season with USL expansion side Birmingham Legion FC.

“It’s been such a blessing to play here the past two years,” Hoffman said. “This is where I’ve played the most games professionally, so it will always be a special place in my heart. We won the regular-season championship (in 2017), but I wanted to go out with a USL championship, so I feel a little disappointed I wasn’t able to do that for everyone here.”

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