by Chandrima Chatterjee @chandrimatweets
Both teams entering today’s playoffs dramatics at Banc of California Stadium come onto the pitch in various states of funk after disappointing final matches. But they play for quite different reasons. Real Salt Lake are fighting a fight they did not anticipate, in many ways lucky for this final chance. LAFC have everything to win for. They have everything to fight for – the new franchise, a new fan base that has often been maligned as being fallen “Chivas USA” fans or too new to the game to understand legacy, the honor of being the only team representing Los Angeles, a feat that in and of itself is a victory. However, far from celebrating the end of the regular season with a secure win at Sporting Kansas City’s blue hell, and a secured spot in the semifinals, LAFC had to settle for a record of two wins in their final five matches, with holes in their defense showing and with a visibly disappointed Bob Bradley admitting to the failure. “I don’t think we were any good today,” Bradley said after their 1-2 loss to Sporting Kansas. “So actually I’m pretty angry.” It is hard to pretend that the loss of the General, Laurent Ciman, hasn’t dealt a blow to the upstart Black and Gold. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake, with their own paltry September and October record of recording only one win, squeezed into the final spot of the Western Conference above the line thanks to the squandering of a lead by LA Galaxy at home to Houston Dynamo.
Tonight, in spite of all of that, both teams are on just about equal footing. A knockout round match is a moment when the past matters little, aside from the lessons learned. LAFC must prove to have learned to stop leaking in goals and squandering an early lead. While LAFC have led in attacking numbers, with 68 goals in the regular season, their inconsistent backline betrays their attacking style of soccer. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake have a chance to get revenge on the team that defeated them both on the road and at home, and the opportunity to depose the new kids on the block.
Eight months ago, Real lost 5-1 against LAFC, and then again 2-0 in a road loss on August 15th. LAFC only lost one match at home this season. In spite of that, RSL are coming into this with a fighting mentality. “I can guarantee you this will be the hardest game of the three that we played them,” forward Albert Rusnák admits with a smile. Tonight is a standalone match true to it’s name. It’s anyone’s game. If LAFC win, they will host Seattle Sounders in a 2-leg conference semifinal starting this Sunday.