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Match preview: Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City

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RSL looks to close the gap in the playoff race as they visit rivals Sporting Kansas City in a nationally-televised game on FS1.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

In what might be the most important match of the season so far with regards to playoffs, Real Salt Lake heads out on the road to take on rivals Sporting Kansas City. The playoff implications are huge in this one, as SKC currently leads RSL by six points in the table.

In the all-time series between the two clubs, Real Salt Lake holds the edge with a record of 11W-9L-7D in MLS regular season play. The only time they’ve met in the playoffs, however, was the 2013 MLS Cup Final in Kansas City, and we all remember how that played out,

(SKC won, in case you didn’t remember.)

The last time they met was on July 4th when RSL claimed a 4-2 victory over their rivals at home, thanks to goals from Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird, Bofo Saucedo, and a stoppage time PK from Luis Silva to top it all off.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 13-11-6 (45 points)
Table: 5th place (west), 10th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.50 (11th in MLS)
Most goals: Damir Kreilach (11)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (10)
Clean sheets: 7
Form: WWWDL

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Atlanta United FC Adam Hagy -USA TODAY Sports

Everything to play for

If you’ve followed RSL Soapbox this week especially, you know just how big this game is in terms of playoff implications. SKC currently sits in second place in the west, just six points ahead of RSL. If you do the math, it’s easy to see how this is a giant make-or-break game, with SKC potentially climbing up to nine points ahead, putting them virtually out of sight for the last few games of the season.

With an RSL win, that’d put them within three points of their Western Conference rivals, and potentially in fourth place depending on how the result goes in the Portland and FC Dallas game.

Road form

It’s no secret that RSL has been pretty awful on the road this year. With only three wins away from home — including that recent 6-0 thrashing of Colorado — they’ve struggled to find road points against teams who have been a real threat to them.

Kansas City is exactly that.

SKC is not only fighting to clinch a playoff spot, but they’re also fighting for a first-round bye and will be looking to get all three points at home.

Get one early

Despite the 2-0 scoreline in last week’s loss at Atlanta, RSL didn’t play terribly against the league’s best team. Sure, they spent the majority of the game on the back foot, but nobody expected them to go into Mercedes-Benz Stadium and completely dominate.

SKC has won their last three straight at home, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be unbeatable. If Rusnak, Savarino, and Kreilach can keep combining in the final third like they have for the last month or so, Kansas City’s defenders will have a really tough time stopping the attack.

If RSL can come out and get one early and stay on the front foot, they’ve got a great chance at winning the match outright.

Sporting Kansas City

Record: 15-8-6 (51 points)
Table: 2nd place (west), 5th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.76 (5th in MLS)
Most goals: Johnny Russell (8), Diego Rubio (8)
Most assists: Roger Espinoza (7)
Clean sheets: 12
Form: WLWWL

MLS: Sporting KC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Good form

Sporting Kansas City, while coming off of a 2-0 loss on the road against Philadelphia, has had a run of relatively good form lately, winning six of their last eight outings, outscoring their opponents 15-3 in the process.

While they’ll no doubt be out for blood this weekend against RSL, looking to clinch a playoff spot and potentially leapfrog Dallas into first place, it won’t be so easy for them. Both teams are in vital need of points ahead of playoffs, but for different reasons.

SKC has five games left to RSL’s four, so they’ve got a little more wiggle room. It’s not a question of if they’ll make the playoffs — although they technically could still drop below the redline, though it’s wildly unlikely — it’s just a matter of when they’ll clinch their spot and what seed they’ll end up in.

A few key injuries

SKC isn’t without their injuries, as they have a couple vital players on the injury report. Jimmy Medranda, who’s been out since May, is out for the season with a knee injury, while both Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton are listed as questionable with knee injuries of their own. Rubio didn’t play at all in SKC’s loss to Philadelphia last week.

Other than that, SKC is in full force and will look to midfielder Johnny Russell to work some of his magic to make some goals happen. Russell is currently tied with Diego Rubio as the team’s leading scorer this season.

No matter what happens, it’s sure to be an intense match, especially if the history between these two teams can tell us anything.


Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), David Horst (torn achilles; out for season)
QUESTIONABLE: Demar Phillips (hamstring)

Sporting Kansas City
OUT: Jimmy Medranda (knee, out for season), Cristian Lobato (quad)
QUESTIONABLE: Diego Rubio (knee) Khiry Shelton (knee)

Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Glad, Besler, Herrera; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Kreilach

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

Match info

When: Sunday, September 30th, 3:00PM MT

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

Weather: 81 degrees, partly cloudy

Broadcast: FS1, ESPN700 (radio)

Referee: Kevin Stott