Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - So often in American sports the best
two teams usually don't meet in the championship contest.
Generally, that's because a team gets hot at the end of the season, sneaks
into the playoffs and rumbles to a title (see: 2007 New York Giants, 2012 Los
Thankfully, that isn't the case with this season's MLS finale as Sporting
Kansas City and Real Salt Lake were the two best teams all season long, and we
have a spectacular final on our hands with intriguing matchups all over the
Sporting Kansas City will be hoping to earn its second championship in club
history and first since 2000, while Real Salt Lake will be gunning for its
first title since a 5-4 penalty kick shootout win over the Los Angeles Galaxy
SKC, then known as the Kansas City Wizards, beat the Chicago Fire, 1-0, in the
2000 MLS Cup at RFK Stadium, while RSL's winning goal came from Robbie
Russell, with goalkeeper Nick Rimando coming up with two huge saves.
So which side will hoist the Philip F. Anschutz trophy? Here's TSN's
positional breakdown of Saturday's match.
Both clubs boast an impressive stable of striking options. Real Salt Lake
tallied a league-high 57 goals this season, while Sporting Kansas City fired
Sporting employs the attack-minded 4-3-3 formation with C.J. Sapong, Dominic
Dwyer and Jacob Peterson leading the line, with designated player Claudio
Bieler, Teal Bunbury and Soony Saad likely to come off the bench.
None of the starting trio exactly strikes fear into the hearts of the
opponents. The key to victory this season has been balance among the squad
Bieler got off to a hot start, scoring six goals in his first 10 league
matches before an injury forced him to the sidelines. In his stead, Dwyer
stepped up to the mark.
The England native struggled with his finishing throughout his regular season,
but made it count in the playoffs.
Where SKC excels in balance, RSL gets it done with sheer quality on the ball.
Costa Rica native Alvaro Saborio is the best forward on the pitch for either
He's had trouble with injuries this season, but is deadly when healthy as he
bagged 12 goals in just 16 matches played this season.
Rookie Devon Sandoval has emerged as a reliable threat off the bench along
with Olmes Garcia, while Joao Plata has thrived since leaving Toronto FC to
come to Utah.
It's a close call, but if Saborio is fully fit, which he is after suffering an
injury in the first-leg win over Portland a month ago, RSL has the upper hand.
EDGE: REAL SALT LAKE
MIDFIELD: The midfield is the crux of the attack for any club, and again with
these two sides, it's a case of differing formational choices both leading to
Sporting plays three in midfield, while RSL uses a diamond setup with a
creative playmaker at the point, two out wide and the defensive player sitting
in front of the back four.
For RSL, the diamond midfield has become a bit of a trademark with Argentine
playmaker Javier Morales pulling the strings at the point of the attack,
Yordany Alvarez and Sebastian Velasquez out wide and United States
international Kyle Beckerman in front of the back four. It's a formation that
can boss the center of the park.
Sporting is likely to start U.S. internationals Graham Zusi and Benny
Feilhaber on the wings with Oriol Rosell in the middle.
Zusi and Feilhaber provide excellent service to the forwards from the flanks,
while Rosell adds some snarl in the middle similar to Beckerman for RSL. With
an excellent pair on the outside like Zusi and Feilhaber, the attack will be
strengthened as they look to get forward.
But Sporting could be left picking the ball out of the back of its net if RSL
hits on a quick counter-attack, which a three-man midfield allows.
Another close call with world-class players on both sides. Zusi and Feilhaber
are outstanding wide options, but will have to do a ton of running to provide
cover for the back four.
EDGE: REAL SALT LAKE
DEFENSE: Both clubs come into Saturday's final with solid defensive records.
Sporting allowed just 30 goals during the regular season and finished with a
plus-17 goal difference, while RSL allowed 41 goals and ended the regular year
with a plus-16 differential.
Sporting boasts arguably the best defense pairing in the league with U.S.
international Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin in the middle and Chance Myers
and Seth Sinovic out wide.
Collin and Besler work extremely well together and command the box on aerial
challenges. Besler also gives the attack a boost as he can launch long throw-
ins into the penalty area.
On the RSL side, the Claret-and-Cobalt are likely to send out U.S.
international Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Chris Schuler.
None of those four will strike fear into the hearts of attackers, but they
work quite well as a unit and can jump into the final third effectively.
Schuler, in particular, can be a threat on set pieces for the club.
This one's not quite as close as Besler and Collin are better than anything
RSL can put out.
EDGE: SPORTING KANSAS CITY
GOALKEEPING: It's a top-tier matchup between the sticks and Rimando gets the
nod for RSL, with Jimmy Nielsen standing between the posts for Sporting.
Both players are among the best goalkeepers in the league as they each
finished in the top three of the final voting for Goalkeeper of the Year this
Rimando, a U.S. international and RSL's longest-tenured player, had an
outstanding season, posting nine shutouts in 27 starts, while Nielsen started
every game for SKC and posted 13 clean sheets.
There's really not much in this matchup as both players are top class.
COACHING: It's an intriguing managerial matchup between RSL's Jason Kreis and
Sporting's Peter Vermes.
Vermes has been at the helm of SKC since 2009 and will be looking for his
first title, while Kreis took charge in Salt Lake City in 2007. Saturday's
clash will be the first time in MLS history that a pair of former player
turned managers will square off.
Both managers have proven their systems to be successful over their respective
tenures, the question lies in which manager will make the proper substitutions
and in-game adjustments.
Both sides boast quality all over the pitch and it should be a fantastic
matchup. We'll go out on a limb and say RSL wins its second MLS Cup.
PREDICTION; REAL SALT LAKE 2, SPORTING KANSAS CITY 1.
The Sports Network