RSL draw inches team closer to playoffs

By By Tony Pizza and By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

RSL seems destined to have its playoff dreams decided at the last possible second. RSL continued to narrowly help its cause by earning a point in a 3-3 draw with Kansas City Saturday night. The draw, which featured three lead changes and three ties, was decided on Jason Kreis’ MLS all-time leading 108th career goal.After Kansas City turned a 2-1 halftime deficit into a 3-2 lead in the first 20 minutes of the second half, it seemed that RSL was going to leave Kansas City without a point to show for a strong effort. After Kansas City did a superior job of keeping the ball out of RSL’s possession, the 80th minute gave RSL a valuable possession in its attacking third.Klein, one of the best distributors in the MLS, found himself atop the right corner of the penalty box with the ball and a good opportunity to score. He threaded a perfect lob into the middle of the penalty kick area. Out of nowhere, Jason Kreis slipped in between two Wizard defenders and generated more pace on the ball than the midfielder’s five feet, eight inches seemed capable of generating. Kreis’ shot sailed past the outstretched arms of Kansas City Keeper Bo Oshoniyi and smacked hard into the right post. Kreis, who had not given up on the play, smothered the rebound and he calmly stuffed the equalizer into the back of the Wizards’ net.With both teams playing for their playoff lives, RSL had the unpleasant task of containing one of the most dangerous front threes in Major League Soccer. For the third straight game, RSL allowed an opponent to jump out to an early 1-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of the match. With MVP candidate Jeff Cunningham limited to the bench with a hamstring injury, it seemed a daunting task for Atiba Harris to fill Cunningham’s ever-growing cleats.”He was awesome, absolutely awesome. He had two fantastic finishes and almost had a third and I think really deserved to have a penalty call,” Kreis said. “So I thought Atiba was excellent tonight, a lot of us have a lot of confidence in him. I’m happy to see things go up on him.”After a miserably played first 25 minutes of the match, RSL began to materialize some semblance of what has kept it in playoff contention so late in the season. Klein ran down a loose ball to the outside right of the Wizard penalty box. Klein settled the ball, then flicked a cross to the middle of the penalty box, where the 6-foot-3 Harris met the ball and directed a textbook header past a diving Oshoniyi in the 35th minute.Unlike lightning, Harris struck in the same place twice when he scored his second goal of the match of an RSL setpiece by alertly volleying a poorly cleared ball from the Kansas City defense just before the end of the first half.Although it had taken less than one half for RSL to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead, it took Kansas City just 18 minutes to turn the game in its favor. With beautiful combination passes, Kansas City got goals from Scott Sealy and Jose Burciaga to give the home team its second lead of the match. The lead looked secure for much of the second half, but it was the veteran play of Kreis and Klein, who gave RSL a goal, that earned RSL a valuable point in its quest for a playoff berth.”You know it is really tough to come in here and get a victory and a result. This point could mean a lot for this team when everything is said and done,” Klein said. “We didn’t get off to the start we wanted in either half. But for us to battle back the way we did is a testament to us and the character we have on this team, and I hope it is enough to carry us, because we have too much talent here to not make it to the playoffs.”Although RSL did earn a point, it did not take advantage of some of the gifts that the rest of the league gave them. Of the teams that RSL was chasing for a playoff spot, Houston was the only team that won. Houston, which is RSL’s next opponent, clinched a playoff spot with a 1-0 win over D.C. United on a spectacular bicycle kick by Brian Ching in the 86th minute.RSL got some help from New England when the Revolution beat the Colorado Rapids 3-1 on Saturday. Colorado’s loss combined with RSL’s draw leaves Real Salt Lake just two points out of the final playoff spot. RSL can still force a decisive final match with Chivas if it can beat Houston at home next week and Kansas City can defeat Chivas at home.If RSL can beat Houston in its final home game, it would overtake Colorado. RSL and Colorado still have to worry about the LA Galaxy, which sits just one point behind RSL.