Riding high off their two straight road wins, Real Salt Lake returns home for three straight matches in the confines of Rio Tinto Stadium. Kicking off the short home stand will be a true test of RSL’s recent form as they take on Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
In what has turned into one of the fiercest rivalries in MLS over the years, this match-up should prove to be a real test of RSL’s strength. They’ve outscored opponents in their last two games 10-3, but let’s be real — neither of those teams (LA, Portland) have been playing well recently.
Sporting Kansas City (8-4-8, 32 points) has been extremely good this year, currently sitting in first place in the west, and boasting the league’s lowest “goals allowed” with an impressive 14 through 20 games played. Just for contrast, RSL has the league’s second-highest goals allowed with 41.
While Real Salt Lake (7-12-2, 23 points) currently sits in eighth place, their recent resurgence has found them in a much better spot, as they’re only four points out of the playoff race — and nine points out of first place in what’s turning out to be a very tight Western Conference table. With their two huge wins (6-2 in LA, 4-1 in Portland), it seems as though they may have found their stride as the floodgates have opened, largely due to Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, and Joao Plata. Captain Kyle Beckerman has even been able to get in on the fun, notching a goal in each of the last two games — one of which is surely to be goal of the week from his 25-yard screamer in Portland.
These clubs have quite the history, including a preseason brawl, an MLS Cup shootout, blowouts on both sides, and plenty of shade thrown in media interviews. The RSL-SKC rivalry has grown organically into one of the best rivalries in MLS, as both teams seem to truly loathe each other.
Overall through regular season play, both teams have won nine games apiece and drawn six through 24 matches played. However, we all remember the 2013 MLS Cup win when Sporting narrowly edged out RSL to take home the title after what was the longest MLS Cup penalty shootout on record.
The last time they met, SKC went home with a full three points as they stomped RSL by a score of 3-0 at Children’s Mercy Park on April 29th.
But that was the old RSL. They look much different now than they did three months ago, and now hosting the conference-leaders at home should provide some added confidence as RSL looks to keep their form intact.
Key players and absences
Right off the bat, it looks like RSL will be without Beckerman due to the red card he was shown in Portland. The club has already filed an appeal against that card, so hopefully the MLS Disciplinary Committee will overturn that decision and allow Kyle to play this weekend.
On top of that, it’s likely that both Demar Phillips and Yura Movsisyan will be out of the lineup as well. Phillips came out of the Portland match with a hamstring injury, and Yura didn’t even travel to Portland due to a minor hip injury. It remains to be seen if he’ll be fit enough to make the 18 against Kansas City, but we can probably count on Luis Silva starting at center forward again even if Yura is healthy enough to come off the bench.
SKC is missing a few key players of their own, as both Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are out on international duty with the US team for Gold Cup. Defender Ike Opara is also out for now with a concussion. In some unfortunate news for RSL, star striker Dom Dwyer (5 goals, 1 assist) was released from Gold Cup duty, so he’ll be available for this match.
Somewhat surprisingly, Dwyer isn’t even the team’s top scorer, as newcomer and midfielder Gerso Fernandes has six goals on the season while notching a single assist.
Kansas City has only won three times against RSL on the road, while the home side has won six of the 12 times they’ve hosted SKC.
RSL: Yura Movsisyan (6), Joao Plata (5), Albert Rusnak (5), Kyle Beckerman (3)
SKC: Gerso Fernandes (6), Dom Dwyer (5), Latif Blessing (2), Ike Opara (2), Benny Feilhaber (2)
OUT: Jordan Allen (knee), Chad Barrett (knee), Omar Holness (knee), Ricardo Velazco (ankle), Matt Van Oekel (ankle), Kyle Beckerman (red card)
QUESTIONABLE: Demar Phillips (hamstring), Yura Movsisyan (hip), Sebastian Saucedo (calf)
OUT: Graham Zusi (int’l duty), Matt Besler (int’l duty), Ike Opara (concussion)
RSL: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, Horst, Acosta; Sunny, Rusnak, Mulholland; Savarino, Silva, Plata
SKC: Melia; Abdul-Salaam, Ellis, Palmer-Brown, Sinovic; Feilhaber, Sanchez, Medranda; Blessing, Dwyer, Gerso
When: Saturday, July 22, 8:00PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 77 degrees, clear
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live
Referee: Nima Saghafi