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.
May 24, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT
It was almost like Stoke wanted him to score.
May 24, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
After 380 PL games, here’s how things finished.
May 24, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT
The Liverpool manager knows he could have hurt his position today with a 6-1 thumping at the hands of Stoke City on the season’s final day.
May 24, 2015, 1:03 PM EDT
The Blues hoist the trophy in front of their own fans in west London.
May 24, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Hull spent on Abel Hernandez and others in a relatively splashy summer, but still sink into the second tier.
May 24, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT
A resilient John Carver, buoyed by Newcastle United avoiding the drop, has reiterated his desire to lead the Premier League club.
May 24, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Clarets sign off with a win as Villa go into FA Cup final on the back of two-straight defeats.
May 24, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
West Ham released a statement on Allardyce’s removal seconds after Sunday’s final whistle.
May 24, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Saints must wait for Europa League spot, as Lampard signs off in style.
May 24, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
Tigers relegated after throwing everything at United.
May 24, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Kane nodded home an Eric Dier cross to give Spurs a lead, and Tottenham controlled possession for most of the match in holding on for all three points.
May 24, 2015, 12:08 PM EDT
Marouane Chamakh netted the only goal of a relatively friendly match before injuring himself shortly after.
May 24, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
Brand new England call-up Jamie Vardy scored in the 16th minute and fellow Foxes Marc Albrighton, Leonardo Ulloa and Esteban Cambiasso also scored in a 4-1 win.
May 24, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
A perfect day for Theo Walcott in his return to the starting lineup saw the Gunners confirm their third place finish.
May 24, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Potters batter Liverpool as Gerrard’s final game ends on a sour note.
May 24, 2015, 11:54 AM EDT
West Ham finishes 12th with 47 points, a far cry from their lofty early season pace. In an odd twist of fate, Newcastle finishes above its rivals at Sunderland.
May 24, 2015, 11:52 AM EDT
The Premier League champions finished off their last three points of the season at Stamford Bridge.
May 24, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT
Didier Drogba made his 381st and final Chelsea appearance, and the players honored him as he came off a half-hour in.
May 24, 2015, 11:16 AM EDT
PL legend signs off in style with a goal in his final game in England’s top-flight.
May 24, 2015, 11:14 AM EDT
It was a trio for Theo, as Arsenal’s speedy Englishman helped the Gunners to a big halftime lead over West Bromwich Albion.
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