For the second time this year, Real Salt Lake will take on a budding rival in Sporting Kansas City. As tensions have steadily grown between the two sides, RSL will hope to use the full force of its offense to counteract the injuries on the backline. This match promises to be a chippy match between two sides on opposite ends of fortune and the Western Conference standings.
The last time that these two sides met was back in April. The match was the last that RSL could claim a five match unbeaten streak to start the season but it was anything but entertaining. Neither side mustered up a confident look on goal as both teams looked a lot more worn than usually. In other works, it was definitely not the 2013 MLS Cup rematch that the advertisements lead us to believe it would be. However, with more on the line for both sides expect on squad to piece together a result in this match.
About the Clubs
Sporting Kansas City
SKC will be looking to extend their unbeaten streak to eight matches when they come to Rio Tinto. The last time this team dropped all three points was also back in April to the LA Galaxy the week after meeting with RSL. Boosting only two losses on the year, the club has not been the dominate force that it has in the past but it has been able to sneak a result in here and there. A contributing factor may be the club's acquisition of Krisztian Nemeth, who is the club's leading scorer.
As the Claret-and-Cobalt have slid down the table, Sporting has managed to slowly climb up it week after week. There last match went expectantly when they managed to deal a defeat to the league leading Seattle Sounders. Nevertheless, SKC has be riddled with injuries and absences similar to RSL. Fielding five different lineup in their last five matches, this squad appears to be fluid, changing on a whim. While this has allowed this side to surprise their opponent's the members of the squad have not always looked consistent - which is something RSL might be able to exploit.
Predicted SKC Starting XI (4-3-3): Melia; De Jong, Besler, Ellis, Anibaba; Feilhaber, Mustivar, Espinoza; Nemeth, Dwyer, Zusi.
Real Salt Lake
RSL cannot seem to catch a break this year. When all of their attacking corps finally reach (near-)full health, the defensive line falls apart. With three defenders on the injury list and another likely to miss because of visa problems, Real Salt Lake's backline depth is going to be tested - to put it lightly. Jeff Cassar is likely to have to reach deep into the depth charts to find replacements.
When it comes to match day expect Jeff Cassar to field many familiar faces - with the exception of the defense which might allow Kavita to see his first MLS start. Cassar and company will be expecting to have a complete attacking corps and a strong midfield presence to back them up. Therefore, expect the squad to be more offensive minded as they hope to keep the ball in their opponent's half and away from their defense. This will be of particular interest to watch and see who can get the first goal of this match and set the tone for the rest of the remaining time. In all, RSL will have to be as flexible as Sporting Kansas City has been if they hope to beat the strong side and improve their Western Conference standing.
Players to Watch
Sporting Kansas City - Benny Feilhaber
Sporting's No. 10 has had a fantastic season so far. Not only does Feilhaber lead his team in chances created (33) and by happenstance assists (5), the midfielder has also managed to five fantastic goals for his side - one of which won the MLS Goal of the Week back in Week 8. The Brazilin-born, American has been cutting through MLS teams like butter and with no lack of goal-scorers ahead of him don't expect Feilhaber to start struggling anytime soon. He's already experiencing a record season, the only question that remains is can the Claret-and-Cobalt stop his service and cause SKC to finally drop all three points?
Real Salt Lake - Kyle Beckerman
Beckerman is back, and not a moment too soon! The skipper always plays a big role for his side but none bigger than when these two sides meet. With the offense still stalling and the defense, let's be honest, nearly a complete train-wreck, Beckerman will have to have a double pronged night. Not only will the captain have to play is usual sweeper-esque role, but he will also be relied on to start attacks from deep within his own territory. If Beckerman has a big match expect RSL to reap the rewards.
Key to the Match
Sporting Kansas City
With RSL's defense battered and bruised this would be a perfect moment for the three men up top for Sporting to be firing on all cylinders. The squad's passing must be crisp and clean as they rely on the midfield to set up a beneficial passing rhythm. It doesn't seem too hard on paper but since Kyle Beckerman has returned he can break up nearly anything an opponent can throw his way. Moreover, the agility and creativeness of both wingers will be vital in working the ball to the feet of the target man in the box. Inserting the right amount of flair without over-doing it could be the difference in connecting plays around the box. In short, Sporting must be able to score if they want to get a result from the ever treacherous journey to the RioT.
Real Salt Lake
In order to come away with the win the Claret-and-Cobalt can rely on two aspects of their game. First, keep their opponents off the scoring sheet. With a defensive line already in tatters, the squad does not need salt rubbed in that wound. The midfield will play an important role in this as they too will have to track back to shore-up any open space in their defensive third. Second, the RSL wingers will have to be on their game. With Joao Plata and Sebastian Jaime taking up their respective roles on the flanks, both of these players will have to provide the offensive spark that RSL has been lacking. Alvaro Saborio needs service and these guys need to supply it. If one of these two important aspects of their game is off for RSL, they'll probably find the match significantly more difficult and possibly on their heels for most of the match.
Catch the match Saturday June 21 at Rio Tinto or on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. MDT.
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? Can RSL reverse their fortune? Will RSL be able to quiet their newest Western Conference rival? Share your opinions in the comments section below.