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RSL vs. SKC tactical preview: Can RSL spread creative work around?

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City are set to meet once again in Children’s Mercy Park. This match will mark the second time these two clubs have competed in 2016. RSL came away with a narrow 2-1 victory just over a month ago. This is not the same Kansas City that the Claret-and-Cobalt met the last time, however. Finally, able to end their winless streak last week against Orlando, SKC will be out for revenge and looking to keep all three points at home.

The Sun rises in the East and sets in the West

It has been a story line the past couple of years that the West is simply out pacing the East in terms of competition. While many of the Eastern Conference teams sit middle table in the League standings, the West rules the top.

Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com.

Even though Sporting Kansas City sits below the redline in the West, the club has benefited from its matches against the mid-table Eastern clubs. Sporting is perfect against Eastern Conference opponents (3-0-0). In fact, these victories account for over half of their points earned thus far. The West, however has been an entirely different story for Kansas.

As mentioned before, Kansas went for a seven match winless streak since the last time they faced RSL. What makes these matches significant was that they were all against Western Conference opponents. In addition, SKC lost against Houston and Colorado in back to back matches – eerily similar to what RSL just suffered. During this time, SKC dropped a total of 5 points at home and another 14 on the road. Leaving them tied with the Claret-and-Cobalt on points heading into Saturday’s match.

If you're not first, you're last

A lot has been said about taking the innovative in a match first. The first goal often acts as a catalyst for the scoring team and can be a hard obstacle to overcome for the conceding team. SKC is no stranger to this scenario.

Sporting is a different side depending on who takes the innovative first. In 2016, the club is 4-1-1 when they score first and only 1-5-1 when their opponent scores first. Kansas has taken the scenario described above to heart this season as they are likely to lose heart if their opponent scores first. If RSL can unlock SKC’s defense, the Claret-and-Cobalt could finally earn the three points they have so craved over the last disappointing weeks.

The Village People

It has been said it takes a village to raise a child, but it can also take a village to create goal-scoring opportunities. Sporting Kansas City is a perfect example of this. Since facing RSL last, Sporting has created 97 chances with no one player’s contribution exceeding 20 percent. Benny Feilhaber leads the pack of course with 17 but Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza are not far behind contributing 16 and 14, respectfully. Even defenders Matt Besler and Nuno Coelho are getting in on the smorgasbord bring a combined nine more to the table. In short, Kansas is spreading the work around.

Sporting Kansas City Top Chance Creators
Courtesy of Squawka.

To put it another way, while Real has relied on Javier Morales to produce over a quarter of their chances since last they met (25.4 percent), SKC has been able to utilize the rest of the squad better than the club with the mantra, “The Team is the Star.” This is a bit concerting for a struggling RSL side who will have to be wary of the entire opposition’s squad and not simply focus on taking a single player out of the run of play.

Exchanging one for the other

Despite the rest of the squad really stepping up when it comes to creating chances, Sporting’s strikers just have not been showing up for matches. The attacking corps in Kansas has only managed to keep 43.2 percent of shots on target since last facing RSL. During this nine match span, their strikers have only managed to find the back of the net six times. As a result, the club’s goals per 90 minutes dropped to 0.67 (from 1.3 before) while their goals against has climbed from 0.33 to a staggering 1.22 per 90 minutes. In this regard, at least, it appears that SKC’s luck has taken a complete 180.

Sporting Kansas City Goal Scorers after the first RSL match up
Courtesy of Squawka.

Other things to keep in mind:

3. Matt Besler is back. The last time these two sides met, the Sporting Captain was sidelined with an injury.

2. Real has three games in hand over the host. Saturday's match will be Kansas' fourteenth, while it be only be RSL's eleventh.

1. Sunny's condition is still up in the air. Last match against Houston, Cassar decided to give John Stertzer the start after it was announced that Sunny had acquired an ankle injury.

Expected Lineups

Sporting Kansas City (4-3-3)

GK: Melia

DEF: Abdul-Salaam, Nuno Coelho, Besler, Sinovic

MID: Espinoza, Mustivar, Feilhaber

ATT: Davis, Dwyer, Zusi

RSL (4-3-3)

GK: Rimando

DEF: Beltran, Glad, Olave, Phillips

MID: Beckerman, Sunny, Morales

ATT: Martinez, Movsisyan, Plata

Keys to the match:

Convert first

Lock-down defense

Playing down the touchline

Watch RSL on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on KMYU or MLS LIVE.