The one that got away

By By Tony Pizza and By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Real Salt Lake had hopes that its season finale against Chivas USA would be its chance to clinch the first playoff spot in the franchise’s brief existence.

Instead, an RSL team with little to play for settled for a 1-1 draw. The team found out before Sunday’s game even started that it wouldn’t matter either way. RSL’s season did not end, however, without a heroic effort from the Houston Dynamo first.

With RSL’s season slowly dying away before its eyes, Houston did the best it could at playing the part of a paramedic. For more times in a 90-minute span than any RSL player would care to count, it looked as if Houston was going to actually resuscitate RSL’s season. In the end, Colorado was able to clinch the West’s final playoff spot with a 3-3 draw against Houston-but RSL’s chances lasted even until the final minutes.

Houston took leads in the first, 43rd and 73rd minutes, but ask any person associated with Real Salt Lake and he or she will point to the three times one of the best players in MLS, Dwayne De Rosario, came dangerously close to stretching Houston’s lead to even greater margins. Nine times out of 10, De Rosario does not miss two of his open looks Saturday night. Unfortunately for RSL, all De Rosario’s shots did was scare the far post as much as any soccer ball has ever frightened a soccer goal before.

To the Rapids’ credit, they never let their deficit swell greater than one goal. Every time Houston scored, Colorado answered. Although Colorado’s final two goals were far from spectacular-with one coming on an own goal and the other coming off a weird pin-balling sequence of headers-the ball only needs to cross the goal line, which it did every time Houston went on top. Colorado’s goal in the 88th minute from midfielder Jacob Peterson allowed the Rapids to catch Houston for the last, and most important, time.

With the tie, Colorado ensured itself of nothing less than a tie with RSL; and because Colorado won the season series between the two teams, the Rapids earned the tiebreaker and a playoff spot for the fifth year in a row.

With the Colorado tie, RSL officially became the first team in MLS history to be shut out of the playoffs in both of its first two seasons. To the team’s credit, it never gave up, even though there were plenty of moments when it seemed as if the team would fold.

It is possible that RSL will have a hard time forgetting all the chances it gave up late in the season. As it turns out, a win in any of its last games before the Chivas match would have put RSL’s destiny in its own hands. That would be the pessimistic way of thinking about the season. The optimistic way would be for RSL to know that it was able to turn its season around and make it down to the last game of the season with a shot at the playoffs, a scenario that didn’t look possible at the midpoint of the season.

In the offseason, it will likely take a dose of both optimistic and pessimistic brands of medicine before RSL is able to put 2006 behind itself and eventually adopt a popular sentiment: Wait till next year.