Preview: Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake return to Children’s Mercy Park to face Sporting Kansas City as SKC look for revenge for their loss earlier this season.

Saturday, May 21, 2016, at 7:30 PM CST (SKCTV/MLS Live), Sporting Kansas City host Real Salt Lake for the second time this season.

To quote Benny Feilhaber, “I’ve never liked Salt Lake. I think they’re – yeah, I don’t like them. I like playing against them. I like beating them, even though we haven’t been able to the last two years, but this year, we get to play them a couple more times. Salt Lake, I don’t know if it’s the game that I look forward to the most, but it’s the team that, like you said, I hate the most, I guess.”

Benny delivered that delightful quote towards the beginning of the 2015 season, and it may have lit a fire under RSL. Since that quote, Sporting KC are winless in four straight regular season meetings between these clubs (0-3-1). The one exception was the home victory over RSL on August 12th, but that was during the US Open Cup and not during the regular season.

RSL have had Sporting’s number. The streak stretches back five games (the teams tied in the meeting before that quote). If the numbers do tell us anything positive, the road team has won just twice in the last 13 meetings between the club. Unfortunately, RSL did just that already in 2016, delivering Sporting their first defeat of this season. The first of many. Sporting are actually tied for second in the league with six losses.

To be fair, Feilhaber hasn’t been the problem in this series. In the last four appearances by Feilhaber against RSL, he has three goals and two assists. He just needs some help from those around him. That help may come from Brad Davis, who has four goals and 12 assists in 23 regular season meetings with RSL.

Real Salt Lake currently sit at sixth place in the Western Conference (5-3-2, 17 points) while Sporting KC are just behind them in seventh (5-6-2, 17 points). Both teams are just three points out of third place in the West, so this game is pretty important, despite it still being just May.

While Sporting KC versus Real Salt Lake isn’t featured by MLS as a part of their Rivalry Week, it’s arguably Sporting’s most hated rival. There is no true geographic rival (unless St Louis gains MLS Expansion soon), so this will have to do.

Suspended:  

– Sporting KC: None

– Real Salt Lake: None

Suspended Next Yellow Card:

– Sporting KC: None

– Real Salt Lake: None

Injuries:

– Sporting KC:

OUT: Kevin Ellis (groin injury)

QUESTIONABLE: Justin Mapp (turf toe), Seth Sinovic (groin injury)

– Real Salt Lake:

QUESTIONABLE: Phanuel Kavita (MCL injury), Boyd Okwuonu (concussion), Emery Welshman (left hip flexor/quad strain), Aaron Maund (right hamstring strain), Omar Holness (separated shoulder)

PROBABLE: Sunny (right ankle injury), Olmes Garcia (right ankle injury), Demar Phillips (right hamstring injury)

Sporting Kansas City’s Last Five: D/D/L/L/W

Real Salt Lake’s Last Five: W/L/W/L/L

Goal Leader(s):

– Sporting KC:  Dom Dwyer (5)

– Real Salt Lake: Joao Plata (4)

Apr 2, 2016; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting KC defender Nuno Coelho (12) steals the ball from Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (10) during the second half at Children

Starting XI Prediction:

Melia

Myers – Coelho – Besler – Medranda

Feilhaber – Mustivar – Espinoza

Zusi– Dwyer – Davis

Rest of the 18: Kann, Dia, Rubio, Hallisey, Olum, Nagamura, Peterson

In the first meeting between these teams, RSL was without a ton of quality players, including Nick Rimando, Burrito Martinez and Kyle Beckerman. Despite that Sporting KC found a way to lose 2-1. A big part of that was Sunny shutting down Benny Feilhaber as he covered him like a wet blanket. Sunny did miss the last game but is listed as probable.

Sporting KC had problems of their own as Matt Besler missed the last match-up and he really holds the backline together. Nuno Coelho has been fantastic this year, but he has a noticeable downturn in play when Besler isn’t next to him. When they are together, it’s arguable that they are the best two center backs in MLS.

Defense can only carry this team so far, and the ultimate issue is the lack of goal scoring. In 13 games they have just 13 goals, which is tied for 18th in the league. On the other end they’ve only conceded 14 goals (1.08 per game) which is good for 2nd best in MLS. RSL are middle of the road in both categories, 9th in scoring and 10th in goals against. Sporting’s biggest issue is they are only putting 4.2 shots per game on target (18th). You can’t score goals if they aren’t on target (ignore that Orlando City has zero shots on target and got a goal last week).

Sporting’s biggest issue is they are only putting 4.2 shots per game on target (18th). You can’t score goals if they aren’t on target (ignore that Orlando City had zero shots on target and got a goal last week). These stats include the fact that Sporting had 34 shots last week, which is a new club record for shots in a game and the third most all-time in MLS. 13 of those were on target. It’s no sustainable to keep up that rate, but it’s a step in the right direction. Now they just need to get some better shots.

Overall, this is a tough game to pick. Sure, RSL has lost two straight games. And yes, Sporting have stopped the bleeding by taking a home win. It just seems that RSL has Sporting’s number as of late. I say they settle for a draw and at least stop the losing streak to Salt Lake.

Prediction: 1-1 Draw

It’s hard to stop the attacking prowess that RSL have up front. If Sporting can shut them out, there is always a chance, especially at home in front of that exciting Kansas City fan base.