Real Salt Lake clinches final playoff spot on dramatic last-minute goal

Sports

KANSAS CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Real Salt Lake was literally 30 seconds away from watching its season come to an end.

Then it was Justin Meram and Damir Kreilach to the rescue.

Meram’s bicycle kick assist found the right leg of Kreilach, who booted in his 16th goal of the season in the 95th minute, as RSL defeated Sporting Kansas City, 1-0 to clinch the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“As you can imagine it was pandemonium in there,” interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni about the locker room celebration. “There are a lot of adult beverages being thrown about and sprayed. It’s the culmination of a really interesting year, an exciting year at times with a lot of ups and down. What was never lost throughout the year was the belief that we could achieve something as a group.”

Real Salt Lake (14-14-6, 48 points), which snapped a two-game losing streak, would have been eliminated with any other result.

“I will say just one word – team,” said Kreilach. “We followed the plan, we did what we wanted to do today. It would be great to go into halftime one or two up, but we knew who we were playing. KC is a great team, especially at home with a lot of ball possession. We were so disciplined, we were responsible as a unit defensively and offensively at the end too. This is how we view ourselves. There are so many people that didn’t believe in us, but a big thank you to those who did. It was a huge win tonight and as I said before, thanks to everyone.”

Sporting KC dominated on possession in the first half, recording nearly 59 percent of the touches but was level with Real Salt Lake on the shot tally, with each side attempting five. Kansas City managed one on goal while Real Salt Lake did not hit the target.

In the fifth minute, forward Khiry Shelton came up with the first chance of the match with a long-range strike that was snared by Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa.

Real Salt Lake forward Rubio Rubin connected from just right of the goal area for a shot off a set piece in the 11th minute, but his attempt went wide of the net.

One minute later, Sporting’s Daniel Salloi had his shot, off a long-distance feed from Graham Zusi, roll wide of the target.

Kreilach had a pair of chances, but in the 15th minute his shot from the top of the box sailed over the net, and in the 20th minute his attempt missed the right side of the net.

Ochoa came up big seconds apart in the 49th minute. Shelton picked the pocket of RSL defender Justen Glad and fed Salloi to his left for a straight-on kick, but Ochoa came out just above the goal area to block it with his body. Ochoa then thwarted a try from defender Luis Martins from the top of the box.

In the 74th minute, Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera tried to break the deadlock, but his shot was blocked, and moments later Justen Meram forced Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia into a diving save with a shot from outside the box.

After losing twice at home against San Jose and Portland, their playoff chances looked bleak. But now RSL, the 7th seed, will take on the the #2 seeded Seattle Sounders in the playoffs November 23rd at 8:30 p.m.

“We were frustrated, but all of the negative frustration that happened with Portland, we changed to a positive tonight,” Mastroeni said. “This is how we showed a great performance tonight. On Thursday when we started our re-gen, we said to each other that we’ve got to believe – it’s the only way to get a playoff spot and we did it. This is the synergy that we need going into Seattle and the most important thing is that we’ve got to believe.”

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