Match Previews

Real Salt Lake Hosts Houston in Do-Or-Die Game Two of Best of Three Playoff Series 

Real Salt Lake (14-12-8, 50 pts., 5th West) kick off the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs with Leg One of the Best of Three series in South Texas, the Utah side returning to Shell Energy stadium this Sunday, October 29, with a 4:00 p.m. MT kickoff against Houston Dynamo (14-11-9, 51 pts., 4th West).

Back on August 23 in Houston, the Dynamo snapped its 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-11L-5T mark away at Houston, while boasting a 10W-3L-6T mark against the Dynamo on Utah soil.

MASTROENI MAGIC :: RSL boss Pablo Mastroeni has led the Utah side to the postseason for a third consecutive season, the Claret-and-Cobalt advancing to the MLS Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons (2020 Covid year the 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 and Kansas City 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 third-largest crowd in America First Field history, sending 21,333 home with elation following RSL’s must-win match.

NEW FORMAT FOR 2023 ::  Major League Soccer has introduced a new “Best of Three” format for the 2023 Round One matchups, as RSL and Houston will play the return leg at RSL on Monday, Nov. 6 at 7:00p MT, in what will be RSL’s first home playoff game since 2019. IF NECESSARY, the decisive third leg of the series would occur on Sat., Nov. 11, tentatively slated for 2:00p MT in Houston. The winner of the HOU/RSL series advances to play whichever side emerges from the West 1/8 matchup between expansion St. Louis CITY – the Western Conference winners & Sporting Kansas City. While RSL would be away at St. Louis – where it won 3-1 in mid-June – it could host that Western Conference Semifinal single-game knockout match if it were to play rival Sporting KC. Following the November FIFA break, the Conference Semifinals (Nov. 26 weekend), Conference Finals (Dec. 2 weekend) and MLS Cup 2023 (Sat., Dec. 9) will determine this season’s MLS Cup Champion and any remaining 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup berth. 

If tied after 90 minutes, Round One matches will be decided by kicks from the penalty mark to determine the necessary winner, as we saw during this Summer’s Leagues Cup tourney. The Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout matches, however, will not be decided by the PK shootout tiebreaker unless the teams remain deadlocked after 120 minutes of play, including the two 15-minute overtime periods.

RSL’s 120-MINUTE PLAYOFF HISTORY ::  On six occasions in RSL’s 31-game MLS Cup Playoff résumé,  the team has been forced to go 120 minutes to determine advancement. In those matches, RSL has won four times – three via PK shootout – and lost 2, including last year in Austin – although each of the shootout results are officially considered draws.

In 2009, RSL rode shootout heroics from legendary MLS ‘keeper Nick Rimando to win both the Eastern Conference Final at Chicago – 0-0 after 120 minutes – and MLS Cup 2009 against the LA Galaxy – 1-1 after 120 minutes – to capture the Cup in a season which saw the team finish BELOW .500 in the regular season.

In 2013, RSL needed 120 minutes in the 2nd leg of the West Semifinal against the Galaxy to determine the series winner, provided by DF Chris Schuler in the 102nd minute to put the Claret-and-Cobalt through 2-1 on aggregate. 

The first “AET” (after extra time) loss for RSL in its now 5-game, 120-minute MLS postseason history came in legendary fashion on the frozen field at Kansas City in MLS Cup 2013, as a 20-round shootout rife with storylines, drama, conspiracy theories and massive momentum swings denied RSL its second title in a five-season span. 

Two years ago, RSL emerged after 120 minutes at Seattle, improbably ousting prohibitive favorite without registering a shot on goal. RSL won the shootout tiebreaker, 6-5, with DF Justen Glad burying the decisive kick, banging it off both posts and in past Stefan Frei.

Last October, RSL took the 2-0 lead at Austin after 15 minutes, with both a sublime Sergio Cordova finish in the run of play and a PK conversion staking the RSL lead. The home side pulled one back at the half-hour mark, saw RSL fall to 10 men with the 53’ red card to Rubio Rubin, leveled the score at 2-2 with a PK of their own at 94+ and ultimately win the shootout tiebreaker.

In this year’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal, RSL fell to the Dynamo, 3-1, in Houston, a game that saw the home side at Shell Energy Stadium take an early first half lead, only for RSL to even the score, 1-1, with Anderson Julio’s header off a Jefferson Savarino assist in the 56th minute, somewhat against the run of play. The sides got to the 105th minute still tied at 1-1, but two late Houston goals wrapped around a Brayan Vera red card doomed RSL, which could have hosted Messi & Miami in the LHUSOC Final had RSL found a way to advance.

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.