You have to figure that, sometime in the next three games, Real Salt Lake are going to clinch their seventh consecutive trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
But for the second week in a row the Claret-and-Cobalt had a chance to do just that, only to go down in defeat. On Sunday, they suffered second their shutout loss of the season to last-place Chivas USA despite completely dominating the first half.
"It was a strange, strange game,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told reporters. “It was like – the game was almost too easy in the first half. We were able to pass and pass, like they were almost down a man.”
Real Salt Lake had 70 percent of the possession through the first 45 minutes, and did everything but put the ball in the net while Chivas looked almost disinterested in attacking at times.
“We got frustrated because they did sit back,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “Made it hard to penetrate. A lot of teams have done that against us. A lot of times, if you don't get an early goal on them they just sit back and frustrate you, and then catch you on the counterattack.”
That counter, and the game's only goal, came in the 47th minute after a bad giveaway by RSL defender Rich Balchan. Erick Torres' chipped strike rebounded off the crossbar and, when Balchan was caught ball-watching, Felix Borja slammed it home to give Chivas the only goal they would need.
“I thought Rich did a lot of good things, and we paid for a couple mistakes,” Cassar said. “But it could have happened to anyone a few times before that as well.”
Despite all their possession, RSL could manage only one shot on goal – and that came in the 84th minute on a free kick by midfielder Javier Morales.
“They did a good job of keeping the game in front of them,” Cassar said. “We had a few chances that were in dangerous areas, but we were never able to make [Chivas USA goalkeeper] Dan Kennedy make a save.”
This is not anything new for RSL against Chivas this, either. The Goats have won only seven games this season; two of them have come against Salt Lake. Chivas have only five shutouts this season; two of those have come against RSL. Chivas have given up 58 goals this season; RSL have yet to score against them.
“It's very frustrating,” Cassar said.
And it's not necessarily going to get any easier. RSL's next chance to clinch that playoff berth comes on Saturday when they host San Jose – another team that, like Chivas, has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
“The games are going to be tough,” Cassar said. “There are no teams that are going to roll over.”
RSL will not be at full strength for that match, either. Forwards Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and Joao Plata (Ecuador) have both been called up for national team duties, and there's been speculation that Beckerman, goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Luis Gil could be called up by US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. In addition, Morales will be out because of yellow-card accumulation.
“We're going to have to sit down and see what kind of lineup we can put out there,” Cassar said. “But I'm confident.”