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Nothing is guaranteed. Not that it's news to anyone in Major League Soccer.
Real Salt Lake was reacquainted with that harsh reality on a steaming field at Toyota Stadium on Friday night in the heart of Texas. RSL's inability to leave Frisco with a result despite having a man advantage for 45 minutes only tightened the already air-tight playoff race in the West. The 2-1 loss to 10-man FC Dallas left RSL out of sole possession of first place and simultaneously vaulted Dallas into a tie atop the conference.
"I don't think we were really exceptional in anything [Friday]," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said after the loss. "We just weren't good enough."
Now the pressure continues to mount for RSL (11-5-9, 42 points) to not only pick up points over the last nine games of the 2014 season, but to win as many games as possible simply to keep pace with top teams toppling one another every weekend.
The club will have another shot on Saturday evening in the final farewell to Buck Shaw Stadium when RSL visits the San Jose Earthquakes on the road for the last time before San Jose moves into its new stadium in 2015. San Jose has struggled mightily in 2014 and remains a very slim outside shot at the fifth playoff spot in the West. The last time RSL visited Buck Shaw was March 15, a night that resulted in a 3-1 lead entering the 75th minute evaporating into a 3-3 draw in the waning seconds of the match.
The Quakes were railroaded by FC Dallas at home 5-0 on Aug. 16, but four days later went to CenturyLink Field and kept the Seattle Sounders at bay in a 1-1 draw. RSL, 4-3-1 all time at Buck Shaw, would likely need three points next Saturday to keep up with Seattle, FC Dallas and the charging L.A. Galaxy, now at 40 points through 23 matches.
After San Jose comes a massive home match against FC Dallas now riding a 10-game unbeaten streak after defeating RSL Friday followed by a trip to CenturyLink Field on Friday, Sept. 12, to face the Sounders.
In stating the obvious: RSL should need at least two results, if not a win and a draw, in those back-to-back outings to either stay within striking distance or depending on results against other teams somehow distance itself briefly.
Captain Kyle Beckerman said after the loss at Dallas Friday he's already circled the rematch at Rio Tinto on the calendar.
"It's pretty neat," he said. "We get a rematch at our place, so hopefully we can respond well next week and stay with the pack that seems to be getting out up front and get another crack at Dallas in Salt Lake and see if we can do better."
In 2013, RSL was 12-8-5 through its first 25 league matches. It went 4-2-3 in its last nine, ending with 56 points, one point shy of West-winning Portland. But 2014 is more claustrophobic and promises to be through October.
RSL at San Jose
P Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • CW30
Sounders 4, Timbers 2 • In Portland, Ore., Obafemi Martins had two goals and assisted on a score for Clint Dempsey, and Seattle beat Portland in a Cascadia Cup rivalry match.
Union 4, Earthquakes 2 • In Chester, Pa., Sheanon Williams scored the go-ahead goal in the 72nd minute to help the Union get the win.