After Saturday's triumph over the fourth-division FC Tucson, Real Salt Lake now leads the Desert Diamond Cup with six points. The Claret-and-Cobalt only have one match left to ensure their spot in the final of this tournament, as the top two teams of the group stage play for the trophy. In order to book their spot as the elite team in this preseason tournament, RSL will have to get a result against Sporting Kansas City.
Sporting KC has fared decently during this competition. On the first day of the tournament, Sporting was able to claw their way back to draw against a 10-man Colorado Rapids after going two goals down early in the match. The goals came from two newcomers in ex-Columbus winger Bernardo Añor and Hungarian International Krisztián Németh late in the second half. Németh scored again during their second match against the Seattle Sounders when Sporting narrowly managed to defeat the Sounders 3-2. Kansas City will look to finish out the group stage strong and keep their unbeaten streak alive going into the regular season.
The last time RSL and SKC met neither team could get the ball in the back of the net. Despite playing without three key players, the Claret-and-Cobalt got a huge boost from backup Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella who made acrobatic saves, one after another. After Luke Mulholland entered the pitch in the 55 minute, RSL become the dominant force after suffering from a series of barrages from SKC. RSL then went up a man with 7 minutes left to play but RSL could not find a winner at Sporting Park.
As both of these clubs have achieved success in the MLS over the last half decade, this match could ignite a full blown rivalry in the Western Conference. The 2015 season will be the first that sees SKC rejoin the Western Conference after spending several years in the Eastern Conference. As tensions have heated up between these two elite clubs in the MLS, dislike for each other has grown. Dating back to 2013, a late controversial stoppage time goal SKC scored sparked some rough feelings before the MLS Cup Final started a raging fire. The 2014 meeting remained extremely heated and it could get worse from there. Expect this match to be along the same lines as these two clubs meet for the first of four times in 2015.
With only one two more preseason matches to go before returning to Salt Lake City in order to prepare for the regular season, this match will be equally about giving new players match minutes and helping the players find their form. The coaching staff has likely whittled down the roster for the senior team, but standout performances could change their minds. Expect RSL distribute minutes amongst newcomers and veterans not really favoring one group over the other.
Similar to preseason scrimmages before the tournament, expect the Claret-and-Cobalt to start the major of young players. The coaches should use this match to again evaluate the talents of new players in the RSL system against an MLS foe with World Class Players in the form of Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, and, returning Honduran International, Roger Espinoza. In addition, veteran players should be finding their form and doing it against Sporting Kansas would be moral elevating to say the least.
Players to Watch
Among players to watch will be RSL star striker Alvaro Saborio. Coming off a two-goal match, Saborio looks to be rounding into regular season form. Impressive with his movements with the ball at his feet and without, Saborio is beginning to look deadly. Several people at the MLS headquarters in 2014 expected him to have a record season but injury derailed that assumption. This year, however, could definitely be the year that Saborio puts up yet another record season for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Anticipated starting XI players Luis Gil and Demar Phillips are also players to keep an eye on. Both of these players have been nice complementary cogs in the club's offensive system. Both players have been great catalysts for key RSL plays this offseason and they will likely continue this trend against SKC.
Yet again, Jordan Allen will be touted as one of the best young players on the squad. After two incredibly astounding performances by the 19 year-old, this versatile youngster is making a name for himself in the league. String together excellent passes - this time as a defender against FC Tucson - Allen has continued to impress on both sides of the pitch. Expect the coaching staff to continue his development throughout the pitch as he has the skills to slot into multiple positions.
On the defensive side of things, continue to watch the development of homegrown player Phanuel Kavita. Handling the pressure of the professional game, Kavita has shown that he has the talent to play amongst the RSL backline.
To catch all the action of this match make sure to tune into the live stream hosted by MLSSoccer.com on Wednesday February 25 at 8 p.m..
We'd like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match means to Real Salt Lake? Share your opinions in the comments section below.