Get ready for a Battle Royale this Sunday, as Real Salt Lake hosts Sporting Kansas City in their final home match of the 2016 season.
Neither club has been able to clinch those allusive Western Conference Playoff spots and it will all be on the line as the winner could book passage to the first round of the post-season.
RSL currently hold the lead with two more points in hand over their newest rivals, but Sporting have better form winning one match in their last five compared to the sub-par record of RSL (0-3-2). No matter how it is presented, the clock is counting down and both of these teams are without a chair.
Historic Mirror Image
As it goes, Sunday could be a blast from the past with a little bit of a twist.
For years, at least since 2010, Peter Vermes clung to the 4-3-3 formation with the Sporting personnel. Lately, however, he has occasionally switched it up with a 4-4-2 as his team has looked for answers during their season slump. Undergoing drastic personnel changes the past two years, Sporting has been trying to find an identity and it looks like they could settle on the 4-4-2 diamond.
This is somewhat ironic as SKC, playing a 4-3-3, beat RSL, playing a 4-4-2 diamond, in the 2013 MLS Cup.
As it stands, RSL could hand SKC the ultimate payback and hold them at their 43-point mark with a single match yet to go – making things interesting as the Portland Timbers are clawing tooth-and-nail for that final post-season spot.
Moreover, the Claret-and-Cobalt desperately need this win to book a place in the post-season and stop from sliding further down the table. Fans and players alike can agree that we do not want a repeat of 2015 which went right down to the wire.
Handing SKC a loss in their penultimate game would be a nice cherry on the top, but RSL simply needs to focus on securing their place in the 2016 Playoff bracket.
Creating and Capitalizing on Opportunities
If you are like me, you most likely have looked over the course of the past five matches and been torn apart by the stats.
On one hand, it has been great seeing RSL create more chances like many fans and the management have wanted. This is without a doubt a sign of a strong offensive club.
On the other hand, however, seeing the Claret-and-Cobalt’s conversion stats sink faster than the Titanic has been gut-wrenching. For a long portion of this year, RSL lead the league in shots converted but now they sit smack-dab in the middle of the table with nothing but fond memories of the past.
If RSL is to rekindle a successful run, they will need to find that happy middle ground between creating and capitalizing.
Keys to the Match
In 2016, Sporting Kansas City is likely to:
1. Capitalize on attacking set pieces,
2. Pressure the opposition into conceding possession,
3. Miss more chances from open play than they convert,
4. And make a lot of individual defensive errors.
With these tendencies, there are several keys to the match that RSL can exploit:
1. Be ok with conceding shots from poor areas, but prevent those from good areas. With Sporting favoring set-pieces over open-play when it comes to converting chances, it is critical that RSL does not allow Sporting to create those opportunities against them. Moreover, while RSL has struggled defending set-pieces, the SKC defending is nye-impregnable during their defense of their 18-yard box. RSL needs to avoid conceding fouls in dangerous areas and not rely on set-pieces to win this match for them.
2. Retain the possession of the ball - and with it control the match. Sporting Kansas City is the kind of team that likes to possess the ball and when they do not pressure their opponents. While the midfield pressure has not been all the great from SKC this year, it does not mean it could find its form again against the Claret-and-Cobalt. In order to gain the reins in this match, RSL will have to control the match and not simply react to the opposition. Revive the playing style of old RSL if even only for just one night.
3. The back-line has to be in sync. Facing a quick on this feet attacker, such of the likes of Dom Dwyer, RSL’s back-line needs to be preventative rather than reactive. Like aforementioned, the back four need to stop Dwyer from playing his game, if not they could easily find themselves back peddling towards their own goal.
4. The forwards need to attack. RSL finds itself with three attack-minded players up-top but they have not had the answers for nearly two months now. When these players have to track back and pick up the ball from a deep position, RSL is far less effective. So can RSL get the ball to these players in a more advanced position? If they are able to move the ball with precision into the final third, the attacking trio looks to be one of the most potent in all of MLS.
Only three playoff spots are left up-for-grabs in the West and four teams are battling for positioning. As a result, one of the teams will be left without a spot and in the dying embers of the season. This is the situation that faced RSL last year and let’s hope the players learned to avoid that terrible fate.
Watch RSL take on Sporting KC on Saturday October 16th at 3:00 pm MST on KMYU or listen to Bill Riley on ESPN 700.