Following their 2-1 loss in Columbus, Real Salt Lake returns home for two games this week at Rio Tinto Stadium against the two top teams in the Western Conference. First up is longtime rivals and first-place holders Sporting Kansas City.
RSL holds a slight edge in the all-time series, boasting a 10W-9L-7D record against the Kansas side in MLS regular season play. The last time these clubs met in the regular season was in the very last game of the 2017, when RSL hosted SKC and came out on top with a 2-1 victory, however it wasn’t quite enough to make the playoffs.
Of course, we can’t forget when SKC came into Rio Tinto Stadium earlier in June and knocked RSL out of the US Open Cup with a 2-0 win. However, that came in the middle of a heavy schedule for RSL, so Mike Petke had no choice but to field a very Monarchs-heavy lineup in hopes of resting the big players for the upcoming weekend MLS game.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 7-8-2 (23 points)
Table: 5th place (west), 10th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.35 (11th in MLS)
Most goals: Corey Baird (4), Albert Rusnak (4)
Most assists: Damir Kreilach (4)
Clean sheets: 4
Home at last
While Real Salt Lake has been arguably disastrous on the road, the story at home is very different, as they’re unbeaten in their last seven matches at Rio Tinto Stadium, with six wins and one draw. The dominance even extends beyond that, logging only one loss in their last 16 games at home, which came in the form of a 5-1 defeat by newcomers LAFC in the home opener this season.
Last week in Columbus, Mike Petke opted to experiment by starting midfielder Damir Kreilach in the center forward position. After roughly 60 minutes of lackluster and uninspired play from RSL, two substitutions in the form of Joao Plata and Corey Baird brought a much-needed spark to the field, and there was an obvious momentum shift as RSL began to attack with much more life.
As we all remember, Albert Rusnak pulled a goal back in the 74th minute, and despite a few other golden opportunities, RSL was unable to find the equalizer. It speaks volumes to Baird’s role at the top of the attack, and one can only assume he’ll be getting the starting nod on Wednesday instead. Of course, RSL plays two games this week, so tired legs will become a factor and we can expect some amount of rotation.
Now winless in three, Real Salt Lake will look to turn their form around by grabbing a huge three points against one of the best teams in the West.
Sporting Kansas City
Record: 9-3-5 (32 points)
Table: 1st place (west), 3rd place (overall)
Points per game: 1.88 (T-4th in MLS)
Most goals: Daniel Salloi (5), Felipe Gutierrez (5), Johnny Russell (5)
Most assists: Roger Espinoza (4)
Clean sheets: 7
Top of the table
Sporting Kansas City was enjoying themselves a seven-game unbeaten streak until last week when they suffered a 2-0 loss on the road to the Montreal Impact — one of only three losses they’ve been handed all season long. There’s a reason they’ve been at the top of the pack all year, and a big one of those is defense. They’ve only allowed 18 goals this season, good for third in the league, outdone only by FC Dallas (17) and New York Red Bulls (16). On the other side, they’re tied for fifth-most goals scored in the league, with a total of 31 goals in their favor.
For comparison, RSL’s 21 goals scored and 32 allowed puts them in fourth from the bottom in the league for both stats.
After rolling over RSL in US Open Cup play, SKC is still in the thick of the tournament as they blew past FC Dallas 3-2 in the round of 16, and are set to face the Houston Dynamo on July 18th in the quarter finals.
In addition to the upcoming USOC match, Kansas City also has a second game this week as they return home to host a struggling Toronto FC, so coach Peter Vermes could be expected to rest some tired legs as well.
SKC is missing a few important players, most notably one of their top scorers Felipe Gutierrez, who has been out of the action for the last nine games after undergoing a sports hernia surgery. Gutierrez is tied with Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi for most goals scored on the team with five apiece.
Also missing from the lineup is midfielder Jimmy Medranda, who’s missed the last five matches with a knee injury. On top of that, USMNT defender Matt Besler is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), Shawn Barry (knee), Demar Phillips (ankle), David Horst (torn achilles), Luke Mulholland (back), Ricky Lopez-Espin (knee)
Sporting Kansas City
OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery), Jimmy Medranda (knee), Cristian Lobato (knee), Gianluca Busio (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Matt Besler (hamstring)
RSL: Rimando; Lennon, M Silva, Glad, Acosta; Kreilach, Beckerman; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Baird
SKC: Melia; Zusi, Opara, Besler, Lindsey; Espinoza, Illie, Croizet; Russell, Salloi, Gerso
When: Wednesday, July 4, 8:00PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 88 degrees, clear
Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)
Referee: Sorin Stoica