Nov 29, 2013, 7:27 PM EDT
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.
Apr 1, 2015, 6:22 PM EDT
A serious knee injury at the business end of the season? Terrible news, though Alaba hopes to return for a pair of cup finals.
Apr 1, 2015, 5:58 PM EDT
The first of CONCACAF’s five WCQ rounds is complete, and there’s a world-famous name leading one Caribbean minnow into the next round.
Apr 1, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The USMNT kicks off its 2015 Gold Cup campaign in 97 days. What’s the roster going to look like? Who’s the surprising “ins” and “outs”?
Apr 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
April Fools’ Day jokes — everybody’s got them, and while most aren’t funny, a few people came through with good ones today.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
One little magician has been sublime all season. He’s our consensus pick, but who do you choose?
Apr 1, 2015, 2:28 PM EDT
Ribery is a big fan of Hazard. Should the Chelsea wing-wizard replace the Frenchman at Bayern?
Apr 1, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT
PST’s writers select their coach of the year candidate with the end of season awards coming up fast.
Apr 1, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
Listen to the latest MiB podcast, here.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:58 PM EDT
We select our Young Player of the season. Do you agree with the consensus selection?
Apr 1, 2015, 12:25 PM EDT
Sterling has spoken out about his current contract situation. It’s fascinating stuff.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
PST’s writers pick their team of the season, so far… Agree? Disagree?
Apr 1, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
Which players did themselves the world of good in March for the U.S.? Here’s a gander.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT
Chairman of Bayern Munich, ECA, believes Blatter is ready to change his ways.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Spurs winger scores stunner to silence doubters. Now, can he keep it up?
Apr 1, 2015, 8:01 AM EDT
Here are the latest rumors involving Premier League clubs.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:26 PM EDT
As bizarre as this is to read, Michael Bradley didn’t register a single helper for the States until 2011. In the Klinsmann era, he has 12.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:07 PM EDT
It was out of character for Altidore, who hadn’t received a red card for club or country since he was with AZ Alkmaar in 2012.
Mar 31, 2015, 7:17 PM EDT
With the deal Porto have turned another big profit. See this incredible list below, as the Portuguese club giants have made close to $423 million.
Mar 31, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
It was a busy couple days for friendlies outside of the draw between Switzerland and the USMNT, with some MLSers doing work in the mix.
- What will Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT roster look like for 2015 Gold Cup? 0
- April Fools! The top gags that actually fooled soccer fans on this day 4
- PST’s Premier League award predictions: Here’s our Player of the Season 0
- PST’s Premier League award predictions: Here’s our Coach of the Season 0
- PST’s Premier League award predictions: Here’s our Team of the Season 3
- Who were biggest winners, losers from USMNT’s March friendlies? 3