As if enough things weren’t stacked against Real Salt Lake for its first-round playoff matchup with Seattle, we found out about 90 minutes before kickoff that they would be without team captain and top playmaker Albert Rusnak after he tested positive for Covid-19.
Add that to the list of reasons to where if RSL would’ve lost, no one would have blamed them for it. A loss seemed more than likely against one of the heavyweights of MLS on the road anyways, but there was no shame in that. At least they made the playoffs at all during what was a roller-coaster 2021 campaign, both on the field and off. Reaching the postseason was an accomplishment the club could hang their hat on and build on for next year.
Instead, with their backs against the wall yet again, RSL found a way. Just like they did against Sporting Kansas City in the regular-season finale, they gave it everything they had with the season on the line.
Against all odds, they delivered.
After playing to a scoreless draw, RSL headed to a penalty kick shootout.
The defensive mentality of “bend don’t break” was on full display throughout, as the team decided that the game plan would be to clamp down and attempt to stop a potent Seattle offense.
The amazing thing is that it worked. The Sounders outshot Real 21-0. Yes, RSL had no shot attempts at all through two hours of soccer. They lost the possession battle 62 percent to 38 percent while conceding 15 corner kicks and taking just one of their own (in the 109th minute). This coming from the same defense that conceded seven goals in two games before Decision Day that had the team’s playoff hopes on life support.
Now it was up to them to deliver in the shootout, but even that seemed in doubt.
After Seattle took a 2-1 lead in penalties, RSL’s Pablo Ruiz appeared to have his penalty saved by Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei but VAR (Video Assistant Referee) determined that he didn’t have a foot on the goal line when the kick was taken, so a redo was ordered. Ruiz stepped up, burying his second try to even the shootout.
After back-to-back makes by both teams made the score 5-5, RSL keeper David Ochoa made a diving stop to his right on Kelyn Rowe’s attempt to give the team a chance to advance.
Defender Justen Glad stepped up, sending his try to Frei’s left. The shot hit Frei, pinged off the post, and rolled over the line, giving RSL the win and one of the biggest upsets in MLS playoff history.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 24, 2021
So in the most unlikely way in an equally unlikely season, Real Salt Lake found a way to prove the doubters wrong yet again. And while their playoff run might not end in lifting the MLS Cup, there are plenty of reasons to be proud of a resilient group that has given their all in the most difficult of circumstances. As fans, that’s all we can ask for.
Silencing Seattle 🤫 pic.twitter.com/5ShJBRhoOG
— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) November 24, 2021
RSL now faces third-seeded Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference semifinals, who recorded a 3-1 win over Vancouver in round one. After upsetting SKC to reach the postseason, the Claret and Cobalt will be looking for a repeat performance on the road.
The semifinal match with Sporting takes place on Sunday, November 28 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. The game begins at 1 p.m. MT and can be seen on ABC.