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Match preview: Real Salt Lake hosts rivals Sporting Kansas City in home opener

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RSL hopes to stay undefeated in their second game as SKC comes to Rio Tinto Stadium.

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake is back in action after taking all three points in their first game last weekend. Now the focus turns to hosting Sporting Kansas City in the club’s home opener.

Up until last weekend, I would have told you SKC was RSL’s biggest rival. Hands down. But now? I’m not so sure. David Ochoa got under the skin of just about every Minnesota United player, supporter, and well, coach. Really got under their skin. Apparently they don’t like it when a ball is kicked into their stands in the general direction of their supporters. Nevermind that the supporters in said section are free to yell and scream whatever they please at Ochoa for 45 minutes straight without consequence, and since the stadium’s not full, the noise isn’t at a full roar so it’s likely Ochoa heard just about every word. But when a 20-year-old kid who just logged his first-ever MLS win decides to fire back, it’s somehow completely inappropriate and “endangering the safety of the supporters.”

To paraphrase the great Matt Doyle from an episode of ExtraTime Radio earlier this week, if you’re concerned about a soccer ball hitting you in the stands, maybe have a chat with your forwards who logged 23 shots on the night but only put two on frame.

But I digress. SKC is still very much a rival, and Real Salt Lake fans would love nothing more than to see those rivals sent home with no points from the weekend’s contest. Thankfully it won’t be a snowy affair like the last time they met, as it’s expected to be in the 70s for this mid-day match.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 1-0-0 (3 points)
Table: 7th place (west)
Points per game: 3.0
Most goals: Anderson Julio (2)
Most assists: Rubio Rubin (2)
Clean sheets: 0
Form: W

Still flying high off that 2-1 win over Minnesota last week, RSL hopes to carry that momentum into this weekend as Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubin stole the show, with Rubin assisting on both goals scored by Julio. The team came out looking somewhat flat for the first 25-30 minutes, but then found their rhythm as Julio and Rubin really put Minnesota defender Chase Gasper through the ringer.

The last time SKC visited Utah, they left with an easy 2-0 win on Decision Day after a strange and turbulent 2020 season. SKC finished atop the Western Conference, while RSL’s season came to an end since they were already out of playoff contention.

They’ll hope to get revenge after the strong start in Minnesota, and while we’d all love Anderson Julio to bag another brace in his second-ever MLS game, Sporting Kansas City has always been a tough team for RSL to take on. We’ll see if the attack can come out with the same energy at home as they did in Minnesota and grab a goal in the first half without conceding.

Luckily, RSL is still without any injuries so Freddy Juarez will be able to field a full-strength lineup for the second week in a row as they await the arrival of Bobby Wood, who we’ll expect to slot in at center forward once he joins the team.

Absences

-none-

Projected Lineup

Ochoa; Herrera, Silva, Glad, Toia; Ruiz, Luiz; Rusnak, Kreilach, Julio; Rubin

Sporting Kansas City

Record: 1-0-1 (4 points)
Table: 5th place (west)
Points per game: 2.0
Most goals: Daniel Salloi (1), Gianluca Busio (1), Gadi Kinda (1)
Most assists: Daniel Salloi (1)
Clean sheets: 0
Form: WD

SKC is coming off a 1-1 draw against Orlando City after they opened the season with a 2-1 win on the road against the New York Red Bulls. Gianluca Busio has been an early bright spot for Sporting after scoring the club’s lone goal in their draw with Orlando. The 18-year-old homegrown midfielder played as a false nine for the first 45 minutes of that game — and grabbed his first goal of the season — before he slotted back into his natural position in the midfield for the second half. They started him at center forward in their first game as well, so all signs point to Peter Vermes making the same move this weekend as long as it’s working for them.

KC lost a couple big players this offseason as free agent and stalwart center back Matt Besler landed with expansion side Austin FC, while winger Gerso was sent to Jeju United in South Korea’s K League 1.

Tim Melia (chest) has yet to play this season as youngster John Pulskamp has started in goal for the first two games, and will be expected to start at Rio Tinto Stadium this weekend as well while Melia makes his recovery. This bodes well for RSL as Pulskamp is getting his first taste of MLS after making 16 appearances for USL side Sporting Kansas City II in 2019. He signed with SKC’s first team last year but didn’t see any playing time as Melia commanded the spot outright.

Absences

OUT: Graham Zusi (foot), Tim Melia (chest)
QUESTIONABLE: Ilie Sanchez (back)

Projected Lineup

Pulskamp; Lindsey, Isimat-Mirin, Fontas, Martins; Kinda, Walter, Espinoza; Shelton, Busio, Salloi


Match info

When: Saturday, May 1st, 12:00p.m. MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 75 degrees, overcast

Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)