Real Salt Lake was eminently familiar with its first two MLS Cup Playoff opponents, having played LA three times prior to beating the Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinals and facing Portland on four occasions before squaring off with the Timbers in the Western Conference Championship series.
RSL and MLS Cup 2013 opponent Sporting KC are far less acquainted, with the sides meeting just once this year, a 2-1 SKC win at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 20. It's difficult to learn much from that game, which was played without four RSL regulars who were away on international duty and with Sporting using a makeshift lineup.
With that, let's take a look at Kansas City and what makes them tick:
Sporting typically plays a 4-3-3 formation, lately playing U.S. international Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong on the wings with Dom Dwyer in the middle. The midfield suffers from a numerical disadvantage but there's plenty of talent. Oriol Rosell is one of the best young defensive midfielders in the league, Paulo Nagamura is a box-to-box workhorse, and Benny Feilhaber can be a creative force. But the defense is where KC really makes hay - Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic are solid outside backs, and Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler are one of MLS' best center back pairings. In goal is the usually reliable Jimmy Nielsen.
Sporting is known for their physicality - they led MLS this year in fouls committed. Their idea is to quickly win the ball back, and if that doesn't happen, disrupt the flow of the game. It's hard to argue with the approach, as KC conceded the fewest goals in the league (30) this year. What they've accomplished is remarkable; looking over the last five years, teams that commit a lot of fouls have tended to allow quite a few goals. But not Kansas City, and their center backs are a big reason why. Both Collin and Besler are great in the air so they get their heads on a lot of set piece crosses. Simply lobbing balls into the box plays right into Sporting's hands and is a difficult way to beat them.
On the ball
When they win the ball, Kansas City wants to get it to the front as quickly as possible. They have plenty of speed up top, and all three strikers are solid on the ball, with Zusi particularly deft. That doesn't mean they're necessarily a counterattacking team like LA, but they're also not necessarily a tiki-taka midfield-dominant team like RSL. KC's midfield only contributed four goals and seven assists this season, so clearly they want to put the ball on the feet of Sapong, Dwyer, and Zusi. And if one of them doesn't have the magic, they have the luxury of bringing Designated Player Claudio Bieler off the bench. Ironically, Bieler is actually Sporting's scoring leader with 11 goals this season.
How RSL gets it done
For me, this game comes down to three things for RSL. First, can Salt Lake establish its passing game? I fear that if the match turns into a free kick contest, it won't turn out well for RSL. Getting the tempo and flow going will give Real the best chance at breaking down that stout back line. Second, can RSL play out of pressure when they recover the ball? KC loves to apply immediate pressure, especially at home, so it will be important that Salt Lake get out of tight spaces intelligently. Third, can Real avoid turning the ball over in bad spots? The way to neutralize KC's forwards is not give them the ball with time and space. Losing possession in their own end will put RSL in uncomfortable situations in the back, and they can only get away with that so many times. If Salt Lake can manage these three keys, I like their chances at taking home MLS Cup come Saturday.
We’re five days away from MLS Cup 2013 between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park.
Start Cup week off right with our favorite RSL Rewind, taking you back to RSL’s MLS Cup 2009 win over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Five days, people. Five days.
Interesting take from MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas on comments that Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey made a couple of months back in Grantland about the stylistic dichotomy between RSL and Kansas City.
We're a bit partial, but we're leaning with Lagerwey on this one. You can keep your high-tempo style, Kansas City. We'll take our brilliant midfield diamond.
Click here for more on the rivalry between RSL and Sporting Kansas City. The sides will meet in MLS Cup at 2 p.m. MT on Saturday on ESPN at Sporting Park.
Today’s date should stand out in the minds of Real Salt Lake fans as it marks the fourth anniversary of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s momentous 2009 MLS Cup win. On November 22, 2009, Real Salt Lake defeated LA Galaxy 5-4 on penalty kicks in front of 46,011 fans at Qwest Field in Seattle to win the club’s first title.
The game ended deadlocked at 1-1 after extra time, with goals from LA Galaxy forward Mike Magee in the 41st minute and an RSL equalizer in the 64th minute from forward Robbie Findley. The match then advanced to penalty kicks. LA Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who now wears Claret-and-Cobalt, made two saves on RSL’s Kyle Beckerman and Andy Williams. LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan sent his kick high over the bar while RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando made two saves on LA’s Jovan Kirovski and Edson Buddle, the latter of which set up RSL’s Robbie Russell to score the game-winning penalty kick.
Sunday’s second leg match against Portland Timbers will provide Real Salt Lake with another opportunity to advance to MLS Cup. Several veterans remain from the 2009 Cup winning team, with Beckerman, Rimando, Findley, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Tony Beltran and injured defender Chris Wingert all a part of the team that lifted the trophy in 2009.
That experience and leadership will definitely come into play as the RSL family heads into one of the most intense environments in MLS on Sunday for the Western Conference Championship second leg – Portland's JELD-WEN Field.
Let's see RSL make it happen again this year, starting with the Western Conference Semifinal against LA. The two-legged series will kickoff this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN at the StubHub Center. RSL's will host the second leg, with the date still to be determined.
Former LA Galaxy icon David Beckham announced his retirement on Thursday, letting the world know that he's hanging it up for good after his current team, France Ligue 1 champs Paris Saint-Germain, completes its season next weekend.
Beckham played against Real Salt Lake eight times in his 5 1/2 years with LA (and once against RSL while with Real Madrid), registering two goals and four assists in all competions against the Claret-and-Cobalt. The English midfielder played all 120 minutes for LA in RSL's MLS Cup 2009 win and was classy enough to come into the RSL locker room afterwards to congratulate the Claret-and-Cobalt on its shootout victory.
While we're a little bit late, we were able to unearth the video of Beckham congratulating RSL. Give it a watch above.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando earned his 100th career regular season shutout on Sunday at San Jose.
Here are a few of the best saves Nick's made during his RSL career. Some of these stops are truly incredible - I got the chills re-watching them.
For the second year in a row, the LA Galaxy will take on the Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup.
LA and Houston won their respective Conference Finals on Sunday, with both teams hanging on to big first leg leads to advance to Cup on Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. Both sides won 4-2 on aggregate, with Houston tying DC 1-1 at RFK Stadium in the afternoon before LA lost 2-1 to knockout Seattle – which, of course, bounced RSL in the Western Conference Semifinals – in the evening.
Interestingly, LA’s win over Sounders FC marks the first time that the team that knocked RSL out of the playoffs won’t compete in MLS Cup. The three previous teams that had eliminated the Claret-and-Cobalt from the postseason – New York in 2008, Dallas in 2010 and LA last year – all went on to qualify for Cup, with LA winning the whole thing last season.
MLS Cup will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN and RDS.