Jefferson Savarino

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RSL clinches playoff spot, Western Conference picture still wide open

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Real Salt Lake was able to come away from Sunday’s carnage across the Western Conference playoff picture with a secured spot in the postseason, but a number of other clubs in the hunt weren’t so lucky.

Jefferson Savarino bagged a 75th minute winner to put RSL past Houston Dynamo 2-1, pushing them up to fifth in the Western Conference standings and securing a playoff position with 50 points, six above the cut line. The shot was a low drive from the edge of the box that caught Tyler Deric too close to his near post.

Not every team in the playoff hunt was so lucky. The Portland Timbers came from behind to draw Sporting Kansas City on the road 2-2, but it wasn’t enough to clinch, as they remain just two points above the cut line. The match featured three red cards, including the decisive moment in the 84th minute when Jeremy Ebobisse was tugged back by Ilie Sanchez while free on goal. It was a clear penalty and the referee sent off the Sporting KC defender for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Dairon Asprilla stepped up and produced a blistering penalty into the top-right corner, earning Portland the draw. The lone point still leaves them vulnerable, however, and now they face a do-or-die meeting with San Jose next weekend.

Speaking of the Earthquakes, they were pegged back at the death, denied a chance to jump above the cut line as Jordan Morris scored at the death, using his blistering speed to beat Florian Jungwirth to a poor back-pass header by Magnus Eriksson. On the break he finished cooly past Daniel Vega to fire an arrow into the hearts of the Earthquakes. San Jose can still find its way into the playoffs, controlling its own destiny, but they must win next week against the Timbers

Finally, FC Dallas slumped to a rough 3-0 defeat at Colorado, leaving them vulnerable as well as the final playoff team in the current standings, holding just a point advantage over the Earthquakes. FC Dallas out-shot Colorado 17-14, but were comprehensively beaten 10-3 in shots on target as their finishing let them down. Jack Price scored 10 minutes in to put Colorado up, and goals from Diego Rubio and Kei Kamara finished it off. They have a home date with Sporting KC on the final day where a win would clinch a playoff spot.

USMNT ready for final Gold Cup tuneup

Associated Press
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The United States has one final tune-up for the Gold Cup as the 23-man tournament squad gets set to face Venezuela on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET in Cincinnati.

A lackluster performance on Wednesday resulted in a 1-0 loss to Jamaica, the first loss under new head coach Gregg Berhalter. A number of fringe players saw time in that game, but with Berhalter’s camp over and his Gold Cup roster set, so it’s likely there will be less experimentation this time around, instead hoping to give the first-team squad a chance to gel.

That likely means the re-introduction of Jozy Altidore plus Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are now available as well. The biggest name of all will not be present, however, as Berhalter has already confirmed he will rest and preserve Christian Pulisic to keep him in top shape for the meaningful matches. Michael Bradley is also not available as Berhalter hopes to protect the 31-year-old from a recent hamstring injury, and while he’s been a full participant in practice, he did not play against Jamaica and will again be held out.

These two teams met in a 2017 Gold Cup tuneup at Rio Tinto Stadium in a match that saw Pulisic score a 61st minute equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw. Yet that game seems a lifetime ago, as just two of the starters from that game and four of the 19 players who saw time are on the current roster, including the 20-year-old Chelsea attacker.

Berhalter will want to see a much more organized and electric attacking display to give fans hope ahead of the Gold Cup, and while Josh Sargent’s omission from the squad is a head-scratching decision that could sap the attack of a late-game option, it’s not likely to affect the overall game plan for Sunday or throughout the tournament.

Predicted lineup

— Steffen —

— Adams — Miazga — Long — Lovitz

— McKennie — Trapp — Holmes —

— Morris — Altidore — Lewis —

The head man will want to get a mix of players on the field while still deploying the same tactical approach he will ask of his players in the Gold Cup and hope as many first-team players as possible can be on the field. Still, with a long summer ahead, it’s unlikely he will take too many squad risks. Omar Gonzalez played the full 90 minutes against Jamaica and could sit in favor of Aaron Long. Tyler Adams has been excelling in midfield since his move to the Bundesliga, but the USMNT has shown no signs of detouring from the plan to play Adams at right-back at the international level.

Berhalter may look to again deploy Tim Ream after playing just 60 minutes against Jamaica, but the 31-year-old is a known quantity and the coach could look to give Daniel Lovitz another chance to prove his worth against a difficult opponent. With Bradley out, Wil Trapp is again the man in the middle, without any fitness worries knowing that Bradley will take over once the Gold Cup arrives. McKennie is back in the fold while Duane Holmes should get another chance after proving one of the few bright spots against Jamaica.

Paul Arriola got 72 lackluster minutes the last time out, and Jonathan Lewis will have an opportunity to show what he can do out wide, with Jordan Morris possibly taking over on the other side. It’s possible that Morris could start the game on the bench with the aim of coming on to spell Jozy Altidore in the second half, in which case Tyler Boyd could see his name in the starting lineup.

Whoever starts at the back for the United States will have the tall task of marking MLS superstar Josef Martinez, a player coming off a record-breaking club season last year and – slow start aside – is back on track this year as well, with six goals in his last five matches for Atlanta United. He will likely be supported on the flanks by Real Salt Lake winger Jefferson Savarino and Jhon Murilla who plays in the Portuguese top flight. In the middle for Venezuela is a familiar face in Yangel Herrera, a midfield destroyer formerly of NYCFC who played the last six months at Spanish side Huesca on loan from Manchester City.

Venezuela is coming off a pair of disappointing performances and has won just once in its last five matches, a surprising 3-1 victory over Argentina in March. They dropped 3-1 to Mexico last time out on Thursday in Atlanta in Gerardo Martino’s return to Atlanta, wasting an early 1-0 lead via Murillo. Before that they drew 1-1 with Ecuador, again coughing up a first-half lead.

A win isn’t necessarily a must for the United States with the important matches to come, but an improvement from the Jamaica defeat is required to give the U.S. any kind of confidence and good vibes heading into the tournament this summer that will define Gregg Berhalter’s early head coaching days and set up the squad to begin vital World Cup qualifying on a high.

RSL’s Savarino downs Atlanta United in 94th minute

USA Today
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Atlanta United dropped its second straight match, this time in gut-wrenching fashion, as Jefferson Savarino scored a 94th minute winner to hand Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Frank De Boer‘s bunch.

Josef Martinez appeared to have rescued Atlanta with his 78th minute equalizer, cancelling out Sebastian Saucedo’s first-half opener, but Savarino struck a blistering stunner from outside the box with the minimum three minutes of added time already passed. Savarino used straight muscle to shield a charging Leandro Gonzalez Pires off the ball, and the strike punished Brad Guzan for creeping just inches too far towards his near post.

The late winner redeemed a Real Salt Lake defense that fell asleep just a fraction too early on Martinez’s goal, as a low cross from Franco Escobar should have been easily dealt with, but the Venezuelan waited for the right moment and pounced in front of a snoozing Justin Glad to poke home the delivery.

While the two sides split the possession, RSL out-shot Atlanta and held the lead most of the way after Bofo put them in front just past the half-hour mark. The 22-year-old was given way too much space just outside the top of the box and placed a curler past Guzan for the opener for his second goal in two weeks.

The win gave RSL its third straight victory in what has become a streaky season. The campaign so far features two winning streaks and two losing streaks through 13 matches, with just one draw among the group. For Atlanta, the second straight loss leaves them stuck in fourth, squandering the chance to pass third-placed Montreal who sits a just point ahead.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
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The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)

MLS Snapshot: RSL climb into playoff position with win over POR

Photo credit: MLS / @MLS
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The game in 100 words (or less): Look away, FC Dallas fans, because your six-week slide (winless in nine games, including five losses) has finally cost you one of the Western Conference’s top six places. If the season ended, and the playoffs started, today, the current Supporters’ Shield holders wouldn’t even be competing in the postseason. Currently taking their place, following Saturday’s 2-1 win over the second-place Portland Timbers, would be Real Salt Lake. With four wins from their last six games, Mike Petke’s team has settled on a system (4-2-3-1) and a lineup (Kyle Beckerman, flanked by Luke Mulholland, deep in midfield; Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino either side of Albert Rusnak, the no. 10, and Luis Silva the lone striker leading the line) that’s picking up results and vaulting RSL up the standings on a weekly basis. Rusnak and Savarino (assisted by Rusnak) bagged the goals for RSL, nullifying Diego Valeri’s second-half equalizer, his eighth straight game with a goal scored to set a new MLS record.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — TFC’s Shield chase continues in LA ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Rusnak takes it himself, hammers home for 1-0 — Someone should probably consider stepping up to Rusnak, at some point, any point. Anybody.

47′ — Valeri heads his way into the record book — Of all 55 of Valeri’s regular-season goals, probably only two or three have been scored with his head, so of course he scores a record-breaking goal with his head.

61′ — Savarino sticks it upper-90 with authority — It’d be tough to hit one any more upper-90 than this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Albert Rusnak

Goalscorers: Rusnak (14′), Valeri (47′), Savarino (61′)