The two-legged playoff series between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake promises to be an exciting one if past meetings are anything to go off of.
The two sides last met in the playoffs in the 2013 MLS Cup Final, when Sporting Kansas City was still in the Eastern Conference. The meeting ended in SKC lifting the MLS Cup with a penalty shootout win. Real Salt Lake will be seeking revenge half a decade later.
RSL will be hoping the momentum gained from a midweek win over LAFC that allowed them to reach this point will help propel them past this round while SKC hopes their fresh legs are ready for the task.
Here’s a deeper look at the upcoming pair of meetings:
Real Salt Lake won the season series picking up four points from two regular season matches. The first match, hosted by RSL, saw the hosts put 4 past Tim Melia in a 4-2 win that featured a pair of late red cards for SKC. Later in the season, Ike Opara rescued a point for SKC heading home an equalizer in the second half. The two sides also met in the U.S. Open Cup, when SKC eliminated RSL on their way to the Quarterfinals.
Players to Watch
Sporting Kansas City: Johnny Russell
The Scottish forward has been a walking highlight reel since entering MLS this season and has the ability to completely dominate any match he plays in. The 28-year-old matched his 10 goal campaign with a 10 assists in 30 appearances. If Russell is on form, SKC is a tough team to beat.
Real Salt Lake: Damir Kreilach
Also in his first MLS season, is Damir Kreilach is a large reason RSL have an opportunity to take on SKC. The Croatian was the star of the show in a midweek upset that saw over LAFC away from home. He had one of his best outings in RSL colors on Thursday when his brace lifted the club into the Conference Semifinals.
Matchup to Watch
Sporting Kansas City’s Attack vs. Real Salt Lake’s Defense
It’s going to be a tough matchup for an RSL side who has struggled to defend all season as they conceded the most goals of any team to make the playoffs. On the other hand, SKC scored 65 goals this season, second only to LAFC amongst Western Conference playoff teams.
With young defenders in Aaron Herrera and a transformed Brooks Lennon, there is worry that a lack of experience in big games could cause problems for the American fullback pairing. With three attackers all capable of bringing the ball into the opponent’s third, SKC are a hard team to defend against. Real Salt Lake only stand a chance if they limit SKC’s scoring chances because they latter is clinical and will make you pay for any mistakes you make.
Sporting Kansas City: Daniel Salloi
Likely to line up on the opposite wing as Russell, Salloi also has the ability to be a game changer as he proved all season. The SKC homegrown had an immensely improved 2018 season bagging 11 goals to pair along with his seven assists compared to the five goal contributions he had last season. SKC lost just two games that Salloi scored in, one of which was against RSL.
Real Salt Lake: Albert Rusnak
In his second season in MLS, Rusnak picked up 10 goals and seven assists whilst being tested in a few different positions. The Slovakian international is dynamic and one of the more underrated players in MLS. He can create chances for teammates or score from distance himself. When Rusnak is at his best, RSL are at their best. I good display from the 24-year-old will go a long way in RSL’s chances to advance.
This series promises to deliver entertainment, and likely lots of goals. The 4-2 match in early July at Rio Tinto is a good portrait of how many expect this series to shake out. Goals at both ends, plenty of chaos, and a lot of entertainment for any neutral.
For Sporting Kansas City, they need to carry their late regular season form into the playoffs and be ready from the start. The fresh legs will help after getting the midweek off due to a playoff bye, but they’ll be getting a full intensity RSL side from the opening whistle and they have to be ready for it. Real Salt Lake is fully capable of stunning the favorites just as they did in Los Angeles.
Real Salt Lake’s outlook is pretty simple; do what you did to LAFC. Be clinical when you’re in the opponents third, win the midfield battle, and hope your goalkeeper can make saves against a relentless attack. LAFC continuously came close, but couldn’t find the late equalizer. SKC can cause as many problems, and RSL will be aware of that heading into both matches.
Sporting Kansas City has been amongst the favorites to advance to the MLS Cup Final out of the Western Conference since the beginning of the playoffs, but have not won a single playoff match since winning the MLS Cup in 2013, which leaves doubters in the SKC faithful. Real Salt Lake has been doubted since squeezing in the playoffs but earned a lot of respect following their win over LAFC. Both clubs will be looking to prove they have what it takes for different reasons.