Sandy » Finally, on an evening with the season on the line, everything went right for Real Salt Lake.
The team defied improbable odds to qualify for the Major League Soccer playoffs again, by ravaging the rival Colorado Rapids 3-0 in front of 18,675 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium while every other result that it needed from three other teams around the league fell perfectly into place.
"It's great," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "It's dancin' time. It's a new season, ... we're ready. We believe. We thought if we win, things are going to happen for us. Why not? It had to happen for somebody tonight, so why not us?"
Robbie Findley scored twice in the first half and Yura Movsisyan added an insurance goal in the 85th minute as RSL put the Rapids on the brink of elimination from the playoff race in the final game of the regular season for the third straight season in what coach Jason Kreis called a "simply fantastic" performance.
"It probably will go down as one of the best RSL games in the history of the franchise," he said. "The performance was second-to-none tonight, and so rewarding to see the players play that way when all the chips were on the table."
RSL will open the playoffs at home either Thursday or Saturday, against either league-leading Columbus or Chicago. It will play Columbus if New England beats the Crew today; it will play Chicago if the Crew win or draw.
The Rapids will make the playoffs only if New England loses, after losing the Rocky Mountain Cup to RSL for the third straight year.
Meanwhile, RSL coaches and players celebrated an achievement that seemed impossible only a week ago.
But while RSL was hammering the Rapids -- "we went for it, we got them by the throat in the first minute, and we never let go," midfielder Will Johnson said -- all of the other teams with which RSL was fighting for a spot cooperated.
Toronto lost badly at New York. D.C. United tied at Kansas City. And once FC Dallas lost at Seattle about an hour after RSL finished, the playoff spot was assured and a roar echoed down the hallway beneath the stadium, from where fans and players had been watching.
"We did what we had to do for us to get a chance at the playoffs," Findley said. "For the whole 90 minutes, we gave it all we had -- every single player."
If only RSL had played like that more often -- it finished 11-12-7 in the regular season -- it would not have needed so much good fortune on the final day.
But the resolve it showed in such a pressure-packed situation made Kreis believe it has an even better chance in the playoffs than it did last year, when it unexpectedly advanced to the MLS Western Conference final after stunning the Rapids on Movsisyan's 90th-minute miracle in the regular-season finale at Dick's Sporting Good Park near Denver.
"The reason is because this year, in the most highest pressure situations, our team tended to play its best," he said. "For me, in five to eight --- maybe 10 -- games this year, we've shown, in my opinion, that we can win it all."
|Real Salt Lake||11||12||7||40||43||35|
x- clinched playoff berth
y- clinched conference
Chicago 1, Chivas USA 0
New York 5, Toronto FC 0
Kansas City 2, D.C. United 2, tie
Real Salt Lake 3, Colorado 0
Los Angeles 2, San Jose 0
Seattle FC 2, FC Dallas 1
Houston at Chivas USA, 1 p.m.
New England at Columbus, 4 p.m.
IN SHORT » Robbie Findley scores twice to lead RSL to a 3-0 victory over Colorado in the regular-season finale.
KEY STAT » RSL improves to 9-1-5 at home, and 9-0-3 when scoring first.
KEY MOMENT » Findley scores his second goal in the 33rd minute, effectively burying the Rapids.