Nov 29, 2013, 7:27 PM EST
Let me tip my hand here and let Sporting Kansas City’s backers try to level my opinion, because after watching each teams’ first four games of the postseason, Real Salt Lake looks like the slightly better team going into next Saturday’s MLS Cup final. With enough people leaning the other way, saying this may just be Sporting KC’s year, I feel like I may be missing something obvious.
Talent-wise, the teams looks pretty even, but when you look at their postseason performances, you see sides preforming at slightly different levels. RSL beat Portland by three goals in the Western Conference final, whereas Sporting had to come from behind in leg two to eliminate a Houston team playing without Will Bruin and Ricardo Clark. A one-goal win (2-1) saw Sporting past their nemeses.
Whereas Real Salt Lake posted a 3-1-0 record against Portland and the LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City went 2-1-1 against two inferior opponents (Houston and New England). Sporting has talent and the home field advantage to pull this off, but Real Salt Lake seem like the better team. At least, they’re playing like it.
And when they take the field on Dec. 7, there’s a chance Real Salt Lake could be even stronger than the team that came through the west. Jason Kreis’s team was missing two key players in the conference final, striker Álvaro Saborío (out both games) and left back Chris Wingert (injured in the first) forced to the sidelines against the West’s top seed. By Wednesday, though, both starters had moved back into the picture for next week’s final.
“[W]e think it’s likely [Saborío will] be available for [MLS Cup],” Jason Kreis told reporters at practice on Wednesday. Should Saborío continue to improve, the Costa Rican’s availability stands to be a major boon in KC.
Rarely healthy during the regular season, Saborío averaged a goal every 112 minutes, a rate comparable to Golden Boot winner Camilo Sanvezzo’s (109 minutes). The 31-year-old Designated Player is Real Salt Lake’s greatest scoring threat – a versatile target man that rounds out a team that has scored seven goals through four playoff games.
Rather than look at this as a straight addition, though, it’s bigger to consider how Saborío might improve on Devon Sandoval’s performance. The rookie from New Mexico had a great leg one in Sandy, scoring Real Salt Lake’s third goal in a 4-2 win. But the target man was mostly quiet in leg two, missing an early set piece chance that could have iced the match in the fourth minute.
If we’re comparing Saborío’s contribution to what Sandoval gave Sandy, the Costa Rican may not be an improvement at all. But barely done with his rookie season, Sandoval’s not yet a player that can give you that production game-in, game-out.
There’s a better chance Saborío decides Saturday’s game than Sandoval. Regardless, over the course of 90 (or 120) minutes, Real Salt Lake will be better for having both options.
The trade off’s not so murky at left back, though Wingert is more of a question mark than Saborío. Having suffered a broken rib in leg one of the conference final, Wingert may not be ready by next Saturday.
His words, on Wednesday:
“Hopefully I’m healthy enough to at least make it a tough decision on (coach) Jason (Kreis) and the staff and possibly be able to help the team, and if not, of course we’d much rather play someone else,” said Wingert.
“I want to win as much as everybody else, and if that means somebody else should be playing then so be it.”
Wingert is a clear upgrade on Lovel Palmer or Abdoulie Mansally, but as RSL showed in Portland, they’re capable of winning without their veteran left back. Yet Wingert’s ability in the air could be missed, particularly if Peter Vermes deploys C.J. Sapong on the right.
If he and Saborío both return, RSL could actually be stronger than the team that downed Portland 5-2 in the Western Conference final. If they’re clear, we’ll be left asking if Sporting’s home field advantage is enough to slow down a team firing on all cylinders.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:56 PM EST
90 and 120 minutes weren’t enough to crown an Italian Super Cup champion, but nine rounds of penalties did the trick.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:34 PM EST
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at Week 17 in the PL.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:12 PM EST
Another professional performance from Jose Mourinho’s men has Chelsea back atop the Premier League.
Dec 22, 2014, 3:28 PM EST
Want to know PST’s top moments of 2014 in the PL? Of course you do. Well, here they are.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:26 PM EST
Watch the Potters take on the leaders at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Dec 22, 2014, 1:47 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. are the top dogs in European soccer after a stellar 2014. But who else is in the top 20?
Dec 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Head butts, highlights and heroism from a memorable year of Premier League.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:10 PM EST
All the details here, as 30 PL games in seven days will be capped off in style to see in the New Year.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:58 AM EST
Can Cameron’s Stoke City beat Chelsea for the second-straight season? Watch live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:04 AM EST
After surgery and chemotherapy, Jonas made his return for Newcastle on Monday.
Dec 22, 2014, 10:11 AM EST
Rodgers confident his side can go on a run and re-write the PL history books.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
No need for a Latvian passport, as Yedlin is granted UK work permit.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:55 AM EST
Geoff on how to stop Chelsea, marking Hazard and the busy festive period in the Premier League.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:59 PM EST
Antoine Griezmann breaks out with three goals in Atletico’s 4-1 result over Athletic Bilbao.
A day of Ronaldo: Real Madrid star erects statue of himself, thinks Real can win Champions League again
Dec 21, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo has made headlines twice today, for erecting a statue of himself and claiming Real Madrid could repeat in the Champions League.
Dec 21, 2014, 9:07 PM EST
The sky continues to fall in Dortmund.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:17 PM EST
Tim Howard converses about his recently released autobiography, “The Keeper.”
Dec 21, 2014, 7:40 PM EST
Jeremy Menez has done a fantastic job as AC Milan’s primary attacker, and he’s primarily aiming for the French national team call-up.
Dec 21, 2014, 6:20 PM EST
Ally McCoist has left Scottish Championship team Rangers, as the club has recognized the former star striker is now on “gardening leave.”
Dec 21, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
Catch up on Premier League Round 17 action from this Sunday.
- Premier League Playback: When will Arsenal, Liverpool snap out of their funk? 0
- 2014’s Top Ten moments in Premier League – Numbers 5-1 2
- Watch Live: Stoke City vs. Chelsea (Lineups and Live Stream) 0
- 2014’s Top Ten moments in Premier League – Numbers 10-6 0
- NBC Sports to air first-ever “Premier League Breakaway” show on New Year’s Day 0
- DeAndre Yedlin granted work permit, heading to Tottenham Hotspur 3