RSL off to Houston for Must-Win Game Three Saturday as Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Continue
HERRIMAN, Utah (Friday, November 10, 2023 ) - Real Salt Lake (14-12-8, 50 pts., 5th West) continue the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs TOMORROW with the decisive Leg Three of Round One series in South Texas, the Utah side returning to Shell Energy stadium this Saturday, November 11, with a 4:00 p.m. MT kickoff at Houston Dynamo (14-11-9, 51 pts., 4th West). The Western Conference 4v5 matchup sends RSL to Houston as the Round One / Game Three matchup on Apple TV+ / MLS Season Pass with Mark Rogondino and Heath Pearce on the call. Additional RSL coverage for that game will occur via KSL Radio (English) w/ David James and Jay Nolly, 102.3 La Gran D (Spanish) w/ the legend Nelson Moran and www.RSL.com.
With the postseason series extended to a decisive third game, Saturday's contest will be the sixth this season between the two sides, with two MLS regular-season contests played this year - RSL drawing at Houston, 0-0, on May 6, and losing at home, 0-3, on August 26 - in addition to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal won by Houston, 3-1, after 120 minutes back on August 23. Back in 2006, RSL played the Colorado Rapids on five occasions between MLS reg. season and Open Cup contests, while the 2008 campaign saw RSL compete against its expansion brethren Chivas USA five times in MLS reg. season and MLS Cup Playoff action.
RSL survived its home leg on Monday, winning a PK shootout, 5-4, following a regulation 1-1 draw that saw FW Jefferson Savarino's 70th-minute free kick equalize, following Amine Bassi's converted rebound of a saved penalty kick in the 28th minute. Saturday's winner will advance to host Sporting Kansas City in the West Semifinal single-elimination match on Nov. 25/26 with a regulation win Saturday, or a penalty-kick shootout victory following another draw.
RSL's emergence at home Monday improved the Claret-and-Cobalt side to a perfect 3-0 in home elimination matches this season, RSL defeating the LA Galaxy on June 7 in a must-win Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal, 3-2, while also coming from behind in a Leagues Cup Round of 16 match on August 4 to defeat Liga MX power León, 3-1, at America First Field. Away from home, RSL has dropped two elimination games this season, including one already in Houston - where RSL fell to the Dynamo in the Open Cup Semifinal on August 23, two weeks after losing Pablo Ruiz early in a Leagues Cup Round of 16 loss at LAFC on August 8.
Houston won the first leg of the series on Sunday, Oct. 29, taking an early 1-0 lead on a Hector Herrera goal just past 20 minutes in, and later overcoming a 54th-minute equalizer from RSL starlet Diego Luna with an 81st-minute game winner.
NORMALLY RESILIENT IN BOUNCEBACK GAMES :: RSL's resolute resilience in bouncing back from losses was on full display Monday, once again avoiding consecutive setbacks. Since August 2021, RSL has now posted a 17W-9L-9T mark in matches following a loss, suffering back-to-back losses just nine times in Pablo Mastroeni's 98 games at the RSL helm. Even with the shootout victory recorded officially as a draw, the Claret-and-Cobalt have now earned a result in 26 of 35 matches following a loss in the "Pablo era" - a run which now includes a pair of elimination wins, both Monday against Houston and the bounceback win over León following the Monterrey home loss during the late July Leagues Cup slate.
FEAST OR FAMINE BETWEEN RSL, DYNAMO :: RSL is winless in its last five games against Houston - all this year - across all competitions. Back on August 23 in Houston, the Dynamo snapped its own 11-game winless streak - one which dated back to 2017 - against Real Salt Lake with a 3-1 win over 120 minutes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal, as Anderson Julio's 56th-minute equalizer was overcome by a pair of extra time goals after the 106th minute, the final stanza marred by DF Brayan Vera's red card. All-time, RSL owns a 3W-12L-5T mark away at Houston, while boasting a 10W-3L-7T mark against the Dynamo on Utah soil.
MASTROENI THE MAGICIAN :: RSL boss Pablo Mastroeni leads the Utah side for a third consecutive postseason, the Claret-and-Cobalt advancing to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in the last six years (2020 Covid campaign the lone exception) and for the 13th occasion in the last 16 seasons since the Club' initial playoff foray in 2008, its fourth season in existence.
The 2021 campaign saw RSL advance to the West Final, winning in Seattle via PK shootout (after 120 minutes) and shocking Kansas City, 2-1, prior to falling in Portland, the Cinderella story cemented by that year's stunning "Decision Day" qualification thanks to the "Damiracle" - a 95th minute stunner at Kansas City. Last year, the 2022 season, also saw RSL leave its qualification to the final day of the season, a dominant "Decision Day" 3-1 home win over Portland. Goals from FW Jefferson Savarino, FW Rubio Rubin and HomeGrown MF Bode Hidalgo entertained the then-3rd-largest crowd in America First Field history, sending 21,333 home with elation following RSL's must-win match.
RSL fell in the first round of last year's playoffs via PK shootout tiebreaker after a 2-2 draw and 120 minutes at Austin, the 2-0 lead via a Sergio Cordova brace after 15 minutes conceded following a 53rd-minute Rubin red card and a penalty given in the 94+ minute as RSL ultimately ran out of steam after playing down a man for nearly 70 minutes prior to the shootout.
HOME MAGIC REKINDLED? :: Monday night's "Fútbol" match at America First Field in Sandy hosted 20,251 fan to create an electric atmosphere, the late-arriving crowd in full throat upon Chicho Arango's 55th-minute introduction.
The excitement in the final half-hour of regulation reached a crescendo with the *Jefferson Savarino *free-kick equalizer, but numerous near-misses from Arango, Diego Luna, Andrés Gómez, Braian Ojeda and others escalated the intensity.
A perfect 5-for-5 performance by RSL in the shootout-tiebreaker will be long remembered for its historic and stylistic aplomb, while GK Zac MacMath's first-frame save immediately gave RSL the advantage.
Will those be the final 2023 home memories for RSL fans, or could Sandy host another playoff match, on Thanksgiving weekend, against its biggest rival, Sporting Kansas City? Saturday's result at Houston will determine all future possibilities.
FINDING FORM AT AFF :: While RSL has been a historically elite home team during its 15 years here in Sandy, averaging nearly 2.00 points per game and a .700 win percentage, it took a five-win, two-draw, one-loss aggregate performance elevation during the Summer to even out dismal 2023 start/finish on Utah soil. RSL started the season with back-to-back home losses in March, including a visit from St. Louis that saw the 4-0 scoreline emanate from four second-half goals for the second-worst home loss EVER. Between the league loss to LA Galaxy on May 31 and the 0-3 setback to Monterrey on July 26, RSL dominated visitors by a 15-5 scoreline in that 4W-0L-2T run, including the 10-1 suffocation three wins against U.S. sides ORL, NYRB and SEA. The second 45 minutes of the 3-1 win over León recalibrated the recent success at home, despite the 0-3 setback on August 26 against Houston.
The 2-0 home win over Colorado on Sept. 2 provided a ray of light, with late Sept. matches against Dallas and Vancouver split, RSL going down 0-1 in each; coming back to win against the Whitecaps after allowing 3 in second half to Dallas. The Oct. 7 loss in the 2023 reg. season finale against Sporting Kansas City dropped RSL to 6W-7L-4T at home in MLS this year, RSL's worst home campaign since 2007 and its second-worst ever (expansion 2005 season), somewhat counteracting the Club's historically-elite road form, with RSL finishing just 3 points out of 2nd in the West and 6 points from STL atop the Conference.
In Open Cup, Leagues Cup and now MLS Cup Playoffs, RSL posted a home record of 3W-1L-1T (w/ a shootout win in that draw) to bring the home mark to 9W-8L-5T overall, hopefully stoking the fires for 12,000+ season ticket members to renew, recruit and grow their base for 2024 and beyond, re-establishing America First Field and The RioT fan group as a force within both MLS and CONCACAF.
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