All week long, Real Salt Lake's coach and players had been looking to Friday's match in Portland as a playoff preview.
A win would have been nice in their quest to beat out Dallas for third place in the Western Conference, but the team's performance in a scoreless tie was exactly the sort of showing it will need when the playoffs begin.
“We're preparing for the playoffs,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar told reporters after the game. “We went to a very difficult place to play and played extremely well. Got a shutout on the road. And if we were to turn around and play at home [in the second leg of a series] in the playoffs, I would take this 10 out of 10 times.”
And they were facing motivated competition, as the Timbers were fighting for their playoff lives. The tie moved Portland into a tie with Vancouver for the fifth and final palyoff spot in the West, but the Whitecaps have a game in hand that they will play Saturday evening at San Jose.
“They're fighting to get in the playoffs,” Cassar said. “They're going to send the kitchen sink. And, for the most part, I thought we dealt with it incredibly well.”
Fortunately for RSL, they had goalkeeper Nick Rimando standing between the Timbers and the goal. Rimando logged his league-record 114th career shutout, making six saves – several of the spectacular variety.
“We knew they were going to throw everything at us,” Rimando told reporters. “Our goal was to be organized, fight together and use this to prepare for the playoffs. The guys in front of me did a great job.”
“Listen, it's not easy in the rain, on the turf,” said Cassar, who was RSL's goalkeepers coach before being promoted this season. “There's going to be some bad hops. There's going to be some things that don't go your way. But we stuck together and dealt with it.”
And they came out of it as he'd hoped.
“If we were playing Portland in the playoffs and we got 0-0, we're in the driver's seat. And that's exactly the mentality,” Cassar said.
“We're excited for the playoffs to start,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman told reporters. “Right now, we're looking to see if we can seal up that third-place finish and then go into the playoffs with some strong momentum.”
With the tie in Portland, however, RSL lost control of the race for third place. They lead Dallas by two points, but even if the Claret-and-Cobalt win their final regular-season game – at home against Chivas USA on Wednesday – Dallas can pass them with wins in Colorado on Saturday and at home against the Timbers on Oct. 25.
“I guess we'll be fans of Colorado this weekend,” said Beckerman, who also professed to be unconcerned about falling into fourth place and having to face either Portland or Vancouver in the Knockout Round game.
“If it comes to it and we have to play in the [Knockout Round] game, it doesn't bother me at all,” he said. “I saw the Galaxy do it in 2011 [editor's note: 2012]. They played the 4-and-5 game and they went on to win the whole thing. So we know it's possible, but we'd like to stay out of it if we can.”