KANSAS CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Incredibly, Real Salt Lake is now one win away from returning to the MLS Cup.
Late substitution Bobby Wood scored the winning goal in stoppage time, as RSL shocked Sporting Kansas City Sunday afternoon in the Western Conference Semifinal, 2-1.
“It’s just amazing,” Wood said. “There’s no better feeling than scoring a goal with the adrenaline rush and all of that. Then for it to be the game-winning goal in the 90th, it’s awesome.”
Sporting KC took a 1-0 lead into the half on a penalty kick by Johnny Russell after a foul in the box by Aaron Herrera.
RSL stayed down a goal until the 72nd minute when another sub, Anderson Julio, found the back of the net off a cross from Andrew Brody to level the match at one goal apiece.
“We have plans as far as substitutions, but the game dictates when that precise moment will be,” said interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni about putting Julio in the game. “Obviously we were down on the score line at that point, so I felt like getting him in early in the game was important and isolating him with some one on ones on our right side.”
Real Salt Lake appeared to be headed to a second straight overtime, until yet another substitute, Justin Meram, found Wood near the goal, and Wood, whose goal set off a wild celebration. Wood scored only twice in 17 regular-season appearances for RSL this season.
As the 7th seed, RSL will now travel to 4th-seeded Portland next weekend to decide the Western Conference champion next Sunday.
“It started in the preseason,” Mastroeni said. “When everyone picks you to finish bottom of the West and probably one of the bottom two teams in the league, you have a chip on your shoulder. These guys are professional athletes that make a living proving people wrong. Have we harnessed that? I think so, but we have also put in the work.”
Sporting KC lost for the third time in as many games against Salt Lake this season.
Real Salt Lake outshot the hosts 11-5 overall and 5-2 in shots on frame.
“It’s just about motivation,” said RSL forward Damir Kreilach. “To be honest, I don’t really care about underdogs or not. We care about quality, mentality and who we are. We showed that today again. It’s another historical moment for us. There’s two steps until the end and we are going to give everything to bring it home.”
This has been an incredible late-season run for Real Salt Lake, who needed a goal in the 95th minute against Sporting KC just to get into the playoffs. RSL then beat Seattle in penalty kicks after 120 minutes of scoreless soccer.
“In football there are game plans that you set out to achieve and it goes your way and then there are others like in Seattle where we’re playing against great opponents at home that are going to dictate it,” Mastroeni said. “The important thing in both games is managing the moments. Today we got behind it a little bit with that PK, but never lost our discipline. We stayed organized and the guys that came in did a fantastic job of really changing the moments, being on the front foot and attacking the goal.”
Real Salt Lake played its second straight game without captain Albert Rusnak, who is out after testing positive for Covid. Rusnak is expected back next week.
Portland, which upset Colorado to reach the Conference Final, won all three meetings over RSL this year, outscoring them, 12-4.
RSL has not been to MLS Cup since 2013.