If you were to ask a neutral listening to hype around the league about the style of play Sporting Kansas City deploy as compared to Real Salt Lake's, you'll surely get a list of things that are pretty routine: RSL is a better attacking side, SKC is high pressure, SKC is a heavy-fouling, hard-tackling side -- and so on. But as with most hype machines, there's a modicum of truth and a whole lot of something else.
I've broken down some of the more interesting statistics from across both teams' 2013 campaigns. In the case of RSL, these are matches in which they're on the road; in the case of SKC, these are matches in which they're home. These are hardly scientific measures, but across the season, they will inform us of playing style, if nothing else. They aren't predictors of wins, nor are they damning in any sense. First, let's take a look at the somewhat raw numbers
|Stat||RSL Away||KC Home|
|Passing||337.11/431.53 (78%)||376.67/464.39 (81%)|
|Forward passes (% total)||167.89 (39%)||152.72 (33%)|
|Shot accuracy||38.54% (4.42 / 11.47)||29.31% (5.44 / 18.56)|
|Goals scored / conceded||1.47 / 1.37||1.78 / 0.89|
|Shots conceded (inside/outside box)||14.1 (9.89 / 4.21)||7.23 (3.56 / 3.67)|
|Crossing (no corners)||2.58 / 14.47 (18%)||4.89 / 18.89 (26%)|
|Tackling||16.26/19.26 (84%)||15.56/20.50 (76%)|
|Fouls conceded / won||12.21 / 12.84||13.33 / 13.89|
|Possession won (Def 3rd/mid 3rd/Att 3rd)||25.47 / 26.42 / 2.63||21.94 / 35.28 / 3.94|
The first thing you might notice is that RSL's passing is slightly less accurate than Sporting Kansas City's, and fewer passes are attempted in the first place. This sort of thing is quite natural on the road, and perhaps it's telling that RSL's is close. Key passes are where things get starker, with RSL averaging just over 9 per match to SKC's 14.
This sort of thing is also revealed when we look at shot accuracy. RSL averages six fewer shots per match than SKC -- again, not unusual considering the usual dominance of home teams, but also not the greatest thing to see. Goals scored are more elucidating: RSL scores 1.47 on the road on average; SKC concedes 0.89 at home.
What we're seeing, really, is a team very good at home in Sporting Kansas City, and a team that's actually pretty good on the road in Real Salt Lake. The places where the numbers really break apart are in goalscoring exploits. It's interesting but perhaps not telling.
But at the end of the day, this is a one-off match, and we just have to deal with between 90 and 120 minutes of play. You shouldn't necessarily throw stats out the window, but drawing conclusions based on that won't do any good.