Real Salt Lake has advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals defying the odds not once, but twice to get where they are. Here’s what you need to know ahead of their match against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday:
1. RSL took down 3rd place LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on Thursday night. After trailing 2-1 early in the second half, RSL stayed calm and rallied back to win. Damir Kreilach had two goals while Jefferson Savarino’s shot deflected in off Walker Zimmerman for the match winner. Nedum Onuoha and Luke Mulholland got their second starts of the season, pushing regular starters Justen Glad and Sunny to the bench. Onuoha impressed on Thursday night, playing well with his new CB partner Marcelo Silva and earning praise from head coach Mike Petke. Onuoha believes that RSL will be a force in the playoffs.
2. The win advanced RSL to the Western Conference Semifinals to face rivals and 1st seed Sporting Kansas City in a two-leg battle to the Conference Finals. Real Salt Lake won the regular season against Sporting, with a 4-2 win at home and a 1-1 draw away, but as we saw with LAFC, the season record doesn’t matter in the playoffs. RSL’s lineup against LAFC had some surprises, as noted above, and this performance won’t make those lineup decisions any easier for Mike Petke, who said earlier this week that he’s looking for players to go into battle with. RSL is 6-1-5 in the last twelve regular season matches against SKC, who hasn’t won at Rio Tinto in league play since July 2013, and 11-9-8 against Sporting all-time in regular season play. SKC forward Johnny Russell has 1 goal and 3 assists against RSL in 2018 (including Open Cup) and Ike Opara has scored in three consecutive league matches against RSL. But RSL rookie Corey Baird has two goals in two regular-season matches versus SKC this year. Real Salt Lake is 11-2-4 at Rio Tinto in 2018.
3. Sporting Kansas City will be well rested for Sunday’s match, their last match falling on October 28th when they beat LAFC 2-1 to claim 1st place in the west and earn a bye in the knockout round. Seth Sinovic received a red card against LAFC and will be unavailable for this Sunday’s match, but will be available for the second leg at Children’s Mercy Park. Sporting is undefeated in their last five matches at 3-2-0 and 8-6-3 on the road in 2018. Sunday’s match will be the first time these two teams meet in the playoffs since RSL lost the MLS Cup Final to SKC in 2013 at Children’s Mercy Park. Sinovic, Besler, Opara, and Zusi are the remaining members of the 2013 team for SKC, while Plata, Beckerman, Rimando, and Beltran (out injured since Oct. 2017) are the remaining members for RSL. SKC are 2-17-5 away in the playoffs all-time and 0-5-2 in their last seven playoff away games.
The history of this rivalry dates back many years, the first real boiling point coming in pre-season 2011 when punches were thrown in a bench-clearing fight that led to the match being abandoned. 2013 saw a controversial 2-1 win for SKC at Rio Tinto Stadium, those points ultimately deciding the MLS Cup Final host, and RSL fell to SKC in PKs in the 2013 MLS Cup Final at Children’s Mercy Park. Things were stepped up further in 2015 when Benny Feilhaber said RSL is the team he dislikes the most in MLS, a favorite moment of mine in this heated rivalry.
Our coverage of Real Salt Lake vs Sporting Kansas City begins on Sunday, November 4th at 7 PM with Spencer Warne and Tom Hacket, kick-off at 8 PM.
Get your tickets for the match here and DON’T FORGET TO WEAR RED.
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