Real Salt Lake has had a bevy of big games to start the 2014 season – Saturday’s MLS Cup rematch at Sporting Kansas City might just be the biggest of them all.
Here are a few storylines to look out for ahead of Saturday’s match, which will be broadcast live on ABC 4 at 6:30 p.m. MT.
MLS Cup Rematch
Do we even need to say it? Saturday’s match will see RSL return to the scene of the crime, with the Claret-and-Cobalt heading back to Sporting Park for the first time since heartbreakingly dropping a shootout in MLS Cup 2013 last December. It’s a chance to exorcise some demons for RSL, which is just 1-5-3 in nine regular season and playoff games at Kansas City.
Will midweek USMNT duty affect either lineup?
A combined six players between the sides were in Phoenix this week for the U.S.’s 2-2 friendly draw against Mexico, with five – RSL’s Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and Nick Rimando and Sporting’s Matt Besler and Graham Zusi – starting for the USMNT on Wednesday night. Rimando and Besler both wen the full 90 for Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad, while Beltran, Beckerman and Zusi all came out in the second half. RSL midfielder Luis Gil was also in Phoenix, but did not feature against Mexico. All six of the players will have only one training session with their respective club sides prior to Saturday’s contest. How RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar and his SKC counterpart Peter Vermes handle their international charges on Saturday will likely play a big role in the match – we’ll see who starts and who sits.
Fouls aplenty, fouls galore
It’s been well documented in the buildup to Saturday’s contest that these two teams don’t exactly like each other. SKC forward Dom Dwyer came right out and said it following Sporting’s win at Colorado last weekend, telling Kansas City’s postgame radio show that he hates RSL “very much.” Nat Borchers fired back a bit this week, saying that he loves [Dwyer’s] comments and that he “probably hates every team in the league.” Both matches between RSL and SKC last year were plenty physical, with RSL’s 2-1 loss v. SKC at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 20 featuring 26 fouls and seven bookings and MLS Cup seeing 40 total fouls and five bookings. Referee Armando Villarreal – who’s just 27 – will have a tough task on his hands managing the game on Saturday evening.
Can RSL stay unbeaten against rough schedule?
RSL is currently unbeaten in the Jeff Cassar era, taking two wins and two draws from matches at LA, at San Jose, home to LA and home to Toronto. The Claret-and-Cobalt is just one of just four unbeaten teams left in MLS. They’ll have their work cut out for them if they’re to keep that unblemished record intact on Saturday. Make sure you tune-in on ABC 4.
Two days until Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City renew their rivalry at Sporting Park.
Two days until RSL gets another bite at the apple.
Michael Bradley has been getting a lot of praise for his performance in the U.S.’s 2-2 draw against Mexico last night. Deservedly so, too. The Toronto FC man was excellent, scoring the Americans’ opener, brilliantly heading RSL defender Tony Beltran’s cross into the path of Chris Wondolowski for an assist on the U.S.’s second, distributing wonderfully and turning in a solid defensive shift at the top of Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield diamond.
Bradley was freed up on Wednesday, and it paid off. Instead of spending 90 minutes providing cover in front of the backline, he was free to roam where he pleased, pulling attacking strings all over the pitch. He put in defensive work when necessary, but mainly served as a creator, with the entire U.S. attack running through him.
The man behind Bradley in the U.S.’s midfield diamond on Wednesday? That’d be RSL Captain Kyle Beckerman, whose positional discipline, rock-solid distribution and defensive ability allowed Bradley to get up the field with aplomb. The Beckerman-Bradley partnership flourished against El Tri; the two had an obvious chemistry, a solid understanding of each other and played well into each other’s strengths.
— American Soccer Now (@ThisIsASN) April 3, 2014
In short, it was everything that the Bradley’s partnership with Jermaine Jones – Klinsmann’s usual first-choice midfield tandem – usually isn’t. Bradley seemed to notice just that, hinting at it in his postgame comments on Wednesday night.
“I didn’t necessarily look at it so differently than normal other than now you’re playing with a guy in Kyle who does a good job of being disciplined and taking care of things in front of the defenders,” Bradley said. “It means that I’m able to have a little more freedom, have the ability to be a little more two-way and be more up-and-down. It’s certainly something I enjoy.”
Kyle clearly enjoyed himself too, completing 39 of 42 passes before coming off in the 72nd minute.
— MLS Fantasy Insider (@Ben_Jata) April 3, 2014
“I thought we got a lot joy from it. That first half was a lot of fun,” Beckerman said. “[Bradley] can just be effective in more dangerous areas. For all of us, really, there was a lot of space and attacking options once we got the ball.”
Now, the big question: Will we see the Bradley-Beckerman partnership this summer in Brazil? And could Klinsmann give Kyle a start (or two, or three), or will he stick with the familiar – if less dynamic – central midfield duo of Bradley and Jermaine Jones? We don't know, but we do know we're not the only ones who want to see KB5 out there come June.
Quick, someone make a mixtape of Kyle Beckerman's passing. Upload it to YouTube with a Euro trance track and send it to Jurgen. #USMNT
— Eric Beard (@BeardEric) April 3, 2014
Real talk: Kyle Beckerman has been this good throughout the entire cycle. You guys just weren't paying attention.
— Maxi Rodriguez (@FutbolIntellect) April 3, 2014
— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) April 3, 2014
We all know Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando is pretty heavy into music. It’s a big part of his life – he’s always at shows in the Salt Lake area, and he even picks out the pregame mix that gets played during warm-ups at every home game at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Nick had a pretty big foray into the music scene on Wednesday, with his #USAvMEX Locker Room Playlist popping up on the front page of Spotify, the popular music streaming service.
Here’s what you see on the front page of Spotify, right now:
Rimando has a wide-variety of songs on his 15-track playlist, featuring artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G. and – of course – Rancid, the band that RSL season ticket holder and “Believe” anthem creator Branden Steineckert drums for. Check it out on Spotify before Rimando, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, midfielder Luis Gil, defender Tony Beltran and the rest of the USMNT take on Mexico in an international friendly tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
KickTV's "Twenty Penalties, One Champion" retrospective on MLS Cup 2013 - Very painful, but very well-done.
If you're not pumped yet for Saturday's MLS Cup 2013 rematch at Sporting Kansas City, don't worry. This video will get you there.
Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers appeared on MLSsoccer.com’s ExtraTime Radio on Monday, talking with Greg Lalas, Simon Borg and David Gass in a wonderful, wide-ranging interview.
Nat was at his best on the podcast, forthright, open and honest on a variety of topics, including RSL’s performance against Toronto FC, what makes Kyle Beckerman a great player, and the role of “bulletin board material” in the Claret-and-Cobalt locker room.
Borchers also addressed Saturday’s MLS Cup 2013 rematch at Sporting Kansas City. The veteran center back – who told media after Saturday’s win over Toronto that he’s “been thinking about [SKC] all offseason” – talked about Sporting forward Dom Dwyer’s RSL hatred, giving a bit of a surprise response when asked how he felt about the KC attacker’s statements.
“I love it, I don’t even consider that trash talk, that’s just being honest,” Borchers said. “I think when you look at the rivalry we have with Kansas City, it always just seems like two different ideologies of soccer. You’ve got us on the one side, we want to play this passing game, we want to create goals in this beautiful way. And you look at Kansas City, they can create goals that way too, but they also want to go very direct, especially at home where they’re very organized and very disciplined. And when you talk about hate, I’ll say it myself, I hate probably every team in this league and I think that’s what makes me a competitor, so I don’t think that’s trash talking at all.”
Click here to listen to Borchers’ entire ExtraTime Radio interview (it starts at the 6:00 minute mark). It’s well worth your time.
Real Salt Lake will take on Sporting Kansas City in a MLS Cup 2013 rematch on Saturday, with the Claret-and-Cobalt traveling to Sporting Park to take on the Eastern Conference power at 6:30 p.m. MT on ABC 4.
Saturday’s contest is the marquee matchup in MLS this weekend – you have fun up there on national TV, Portland and Seattle – and both sides are already amped for it.
“I’m excited,” RSL defender Tony Beltran told Bill Riley following RSL’s win over Toronto on Saturday. “I know the group is very excited. It’s going to be an interesting game, it’s going to be a fun game and I’m looking forward to it.”
Kansas City, as they are wont to do, took a bit of a different approach to express their – um – excitement ahead of Saturday’s match. Here’s Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber, following Kansas City’s 3-2 win at Colorado on Saturday:
Benny Feilhaber on @RealSaltLake: "They pride themselves on being the most possession-oriented team, but I don't know if I buy into that."
— Andy Edwards (@AndyEdMLS) March 30, 2014
And here’s KC forward Dom Dwyer, who scored a 92nd minute game-winner at the Rapids on Saturday:
— Andy Edwards (@AndyEdMLS) March 30, 2014
Real Salt Lake newcomer Luke Mulholland has made a big splash early in his RSL career, scoring one goal – and having another incorrectly called back – in four appearances this season, three of which have been off the bench.
We’ve gotten to know Luke a little bit here on RealSaltLake.com, sitting down with him a couple of weeks ago for our “10 things” feature. Brian Dunseth is the latest to go in-depth with the 25-year-old Englishman, taking him on in a Crossbar Challenge that aired on Sunday on ABC 4’s Real Sports Live.
Check out Dunny’s matchup with Luke above.
ABC 4’s Real Sports Live was at it again on Sunday night, airing plenty of killer Real Salt Lake content in the aftermath of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s 3-0 thrashing over Toronto FC.
Bill Riley and Brian Dunseth sat down for some one-on-one interviews after the match, with Bill sitting down with defender Tony Beltran and midfielder Luis Gil and Dunny chatting with defender Chris Schuler.
Check out the interviews below.
Beltran and Schuler: