Real Salt Lake heads to Sporting Park on Saturday to take on Sporting Kansas City. Standing on equal ground, both sides enter the match with eight points. RSL, however, have played one less match than the home side so far this season. This will be the two sides' first regular season meeting having already met once in preseason at the Desert Diamond Cup tournament.
The preseason match between these two sides have already added fuel to the fire that is a new conference rivalry. The match was by far the chippiest of all preseason matches with several scrums breaking out. On goals from Emery Welshman and Devon Sandoval, RSL prevailed over SKC 2-1 to continue their preseason unbeaten streak.
During the last regular season meeting between these two clubs, neither side was able to get the breakthrough goal. The match ended with a 0-0 scoreline despite being filled with fireworks. Missing several starters, the Claret-and-Cobalt got a huge boost from backup netminder Jeff Attinella who came up with miraculous save after miraculous save. The appearance of Luke Mulholland changed the nature of the match as RSL became the dominate force after having trouble securing a foothold in the early minutes of the match. Kansas then went down a man in the 83rd minute but the Claret-and-Cobalt still could not get the winning goal.
Sporting Kansas City
After struggling late in the season last year, SKC added some important pieces to their roster. The addition of striker Krisztian Nemeth has already starting paying dividends with the Hungarian international scoring the stoppage time winner against the Philadelphia Union. Jalil Anibaba is another player that has secured a large role with the club after the off-season departure of Aurelien Collin. The club also (re)secured the services of midfield connoisseur Roger Espinoza to create desperately needed depth. SKC head coach Peter Vermes also suggested that the club will be allowed greater formational flexibility, adding to the clubs new found versatility.
On the heels of a dramatic late win, Sporting Kansas City will be flying high, especially in front of their home fans. Dom Dwyer has, however, found it difficult to find the back of the net this season. Skying shots, one after another, Dwyer has seemingly become accustomed with his shots going anywhere but into the netting. RSL's defense may benefit from this as they can focus more attention on the wing play which Kansas City, for obvious reasons, is dangerous in - even missing Graham Zusi.
With several new pieces and changing roles within the club - such as Benny Feilhaber's increased defensive load - RSL could exploit the open spaces left open by potential miscues. Much like Kyle Beckerman's and Luke Mulholland's ability to find space against the one central midfielder of Fatai Alashe during the San Jose match, the Claret-and-Cobalt could find themselves in a familiar position. Also, the new partnership of Anibaba and Ike Opara in defense have led to the club already conceding three home goals - not to mention the three road goals. This could be important as RSL will look to improve wing-play.
Predicted Sporting Kansas City Starting XI (4-3-3): Marín; Anibaba, Opara, Besler, de Jong; Feilhaber, Espinoza, Nagamura; Peterson, Dwyer, Medranda.
Real Salt Lake
After securing their second victory to remain one of the two unbeaten clubs in the league, RSL will look to continue to build on the performance and momentum of last week's match in San Jose. After getting their first road victory, RSL will expect that they can mop up the option away from the familiar confines of Rio Tinto. The Claret-and-Cobalt's defense will take heart in knowing that SKC has struggled to create goal scoring opportunities and the offensive will hope to exploit defensive mistakes that have lead the Kansas club to conceding three goals at home this season - not to mention the three away from home.
One thing that RSL will have to improve is their wing play if they hope to continue their success in the 4-3-3 formation. Relying heavily on the influence and production of Javier Morales - two goals and three assists so far this season - RSL will have to spread out the offensive work load. The Y attacking tactic could improve the offensive penetration, while also allowing the wingers to get more involved in the run of play. If RSL hopes to improve offensively, the wingers will play a key role in their success.
After two victories in as many weeks, the coaching staff will return to fielding familiar faces with few adjustments - some technical and others to account for injuries. Demar Phillips is likely to return to the lineup after returning to practice and being 90 percent last week. Other options that Jeff Cassar will also consider is the right wing position after Sebastian Jaime is still recovering from a tibial contusion. Expect Gil to get the best look as RSL looked most dangerous against the San Jose Earthquakes after he took up the position on the right wing. Expect bench players to continue to play particularly important roles in this match as they continue to earn top-tier minutes. RSL will also continue their tactical substitution system altering the field of play at (somewhat) predictable moments, but players that have shown well in the past two weeks could get the nod over the other options on the bench.
Players to Watch
Obviously, RSL will have to keep an eye on Dwyer. The second leading scorer in 2014, Dwyer has yet to find his form this season but he could erupt at any time. Playing as the target man in the 4-3-3, Dwyer will have to contend against the monstrous presence of both Chris Schuler and Jamison Olave. Both of RSL's central defenders are dominate by nature but will have their hands full against Dwyer. But with only one goal in five matches, Dwyer seems to be a player that can be exploited during a bad run of form.
Similarly, RSL will look to Alavro Saborio to have a successful match. The Costa Rican international performed valiantly during his international duty but it has yet to translate to the pitch for RSL. Looking to open his scoring sheet for the year - has only scored a penalty against Philadelphia - Saborio will look to play off the defensive miscues of Opara and Matt Besler, similar to the way Philadelphia's Fernando Aristeguieta did last week. In any case, the veteran striker will look to get rolling this season against Sporting Kansas City.
Other names to keep an eye on are Gil for RSL and Opara for SKC. Both of these players have found success in new roles this year for their respective clubs. Gil has found himself playing mostly in midfield, but has proven to be exceptionally well on the wing. If he gets the start on the wing, RSL could finally find a way to get both Gil and Mulholland on the pitch. Opara on the other hand is the leading scorer for Kansas this year. A set-piece specialist, Opara will look to nab his third goal of the season. RSL will have to keep an eye on the 6-foot-2 defender when he is in their 18 yard box. It will be interesting to see how these players will react to their situation and if they can keep their emotions from getting the best of them in what can only be presumed as a chippy match. With both sides pushing to improve their standings, could the supporting cast steal the spotlight?
Catch the match Saturday March 11 on KMYU at 6:30 p.m. MST.
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? How will RSL's wing-play perform? Can SKC find a strong replacement from Graham Zusi? Share your opinions in the comments section below.