On their second ever trip to the MLS Cup, Real Salt Lake lost to Sporting Kansas City on the longest penalty kick shootout in MLS history. With the loss, the Claret and Cobalt watched the Wizards of Kansas qualify for the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League as the champions of the MLS.
Everyone then assumed that RSL would qualify for the 2014-15 CCL as the runners-up. Soon after, however, The CONCACAF executive board approved the U.S. Soccer request to fix the CCL qualification rules. The rules went from anointing CCL spots to the MLS Cup participants, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Champions, and the MLS Supporters Shield Champion (most points in MLS) to awarding CCL spots to the MLS Cup Champion, the U.S. Open Champion, the MLS Supporters Shield Champion … and the team in who earned the most points in the opposite conference of the MLS Supporters Shield Champion.
So instead of Real Salt Lake securing that Champions League spot, the sudden upstart Portland Timbers are thrown into the CCL.
Real Salt Lake fans were understandably mad. Their team had a terrific season, they played brilliantly, they got the the MLS Cup for the second time in team history, and they lost in one of the most heartbreaking fashions ever. Honestly, they were jobbed by MLS — hard. But what most fans might not have paid attention to is: this falls squarely on them. Real Salt Lake squandered every single chance they had at making it to the CCL. Let’s take it step by step.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Champions, DC United: the much-maligned DC United became a team of destiny and found themselves in the U.S. Open Cup Championship, where they won 1-0 … against Real Salt Lake, behind a Lewis Neal left foot shot into the lower right corner at the 45th-minute mark.
The MLS Cup Champions, Sporting Kansas City: As mentioned above, Sporting Kansas City tied Real Salt Lake on an Aurelien Collin header in the 78th minute off of a Graham Zusi corner kick, which then lead to a penalty shootout that saw both teams use every field player (10) before Collin stepped up again to bury home a spot kick, which became the game-winner after Lovel Palmer hit the crossbar in such heartbreaking fashion.
Supporters Shield situation, Portland Timbers, New York Red Bulls: In the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls finished the season with 59 points, winning the Supporter’s Shield for the first time in team history. Two points behind them, in the Western Conference, The Timbers of PDX led for the first time in their club’s history as well.
One point behind them sits the Royals of Real Salt Lake. One can look to March 9 or March 23, when RSL took two shutout losses — one to league cellar DC United (1-0 … uncanny), and the other to the 15th-ranked FC Dallas (2-0). Even a tie in one of those matches puts RSL in the Champions League as their record against PDX was 2-0-2, giving them a tiebreaker.
In summary, Real Salt Lake was jobbed out of a birth as changing a competition rule after a team qualifies is highly unjust, especially if the seeding for that area is set. But Real Salt Lake’s fans can’t really be upset at the executives, as their exclusion from the CONCACAF falls solely on the players’ performance on the pitch.