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Playoff match preview: Leg 2, Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City

Without Albert Rusnak, RSL looks to close out the series with a multi-goal draw or a win on the road in Kansas City this weekend.

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

After last week’s 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, Real Salt Lake travels to Kansas City for the second and final leg of the series to see who will continue on to face off against a waiting Portland Timbers in the conference championship.

Scenarios

Let’s get possible scenarios out of the way. Since SKC grabbed a much-needed away goal last week, it creates a few different scenarios where both teams could actually get the series win without actually winning Sunday’s game.

First and foremost, a win for either team would result in them moving on, no questions asked. That’s simple.

The draw scenarios are simple too, once you see them laid out.

0-0: SKC advances on away goals
1-1: Play 30 minutes of extra time, and then penalty shootout if still tied
2-2 or any higher draw: RSL advances on away goals

That’s it. I know plenty of people know this information already, but it helps to lay it all out for anyone who may not be too familiar with the away goals rule in tournament play.

It’s worth noting that once they’re into the 30 minutes of extra time, the away goals rule doesn’t apply to any new goals scored. We saw a prime example of this the other night when Portland and Seattle both scored in extra time and ended 4-4 on aggregate, and some of the Timbers players burst out into celebration at the final whistle, assuming they had won on away goals.

Missing players and lineup decisions

The big headline for RSL going into this game is that they’ll be without playmaker Albert Rusnak, who will serve a one-game suspension after receiving his second yellow card of the playoffs in last week’s game. This comes as a huge blow to Mike Petke’s lineup, and he’ll be forced to make some tough decisions.

“We know how we want to approach it, but who plays in that position is going to be key,” Petke told MLSSoccer.com. “We have a number of different options; managing the game is going to be huge.”

Luckily, we’ve seen Damir Kreilach slot into Rusnak’s role when he’s been gone before, and the results have been nothing less than fantastic. Kreilach has seemed to thrive each time he’s played at the number 10 spot and we can most likely expect him to get the start there in this game.

That would leave the center forward position open for MLS Rookie of the Year Corey Baird to start in, making for some potential dangerous combination play between the two of them.

In addition to Rusnak being suspended, RSL has five other players to be cautious of with Aaron Herrera, Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird, Sunny, and Kyle Beckerman all on yellow card accumulation warning. They each have one card in this year’s playoffs so far, meaning that if any of them get a yellow card this game and RSL advances to the next round, they would miss the first leg of the Portland Timbers series.

Good mojo

Since winning the 2013 MLS Cup, Sporting Kansas City has only managed to beat RSL once in MLS play through 13 total games, including last week’s playoff draw at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake has claimed six wins, while drawing six and losing once on the road to SKC back in April of 2017.

Another interesting point to mention is that since that 2013 MLS Cup win, SKC hasn’t made it past the knockout round once, losing each knockout game throughout the last four years. Of course, this year they finished atop the Western Conference so they got a bye in the knockout round, but RSL has a chance to continue the tradition of SKC’s playoff-losing ways.

For RSL, 2014 was the last time they made an appearance in the conference semifinals, when they lost to the LA Galaxy on a 5-0 aggregate. To be clear, all five of LA’s goals came in the second leg as Robbie Keane and the squad put on a clinic to send RSL crashing out of the playoffs. Since then, Salt Lake missed the playoffs twice while making it to the knockout round only once in 2016, when they’d be sent home again by the LA Galaxy by a score of 3-1 in Jeff Cassar’s last full year at the helm.


Absences

Real Salt Lake

OUT: David Horst (achilles)
QUESTIONABLE: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles), Marcelo Silva (groin)

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (knee), Cristian Lobato (quad)

Projected Lineups

RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Onuoha, Glad, Herrera; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Kreilach, Plata; Baird

SKC: Melia; Zusi, Opara, Besler, Sinovic; Espinoza, Ilie, Gutierrez; Russell, Shelton, Salloi

Match info

When: Sunday, November 11, 1:00PM MT

Where: Children’s Mercy Park — Kansas City, KS

Weather: 37 degrees, cloudy

Broadcast: ESPN, ESPN700 (radio)

Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero