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.
Aug 29, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Orlando City SC midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired from professional soccer because of a medical condition.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Paulo Bento didn’t name Cristiano Ronaldo in his squad for Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Albania in early September.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo live on NBCSN.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
A new system would benefit domestic club winners by separating the teams into different pots.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Louis van Gaal thinks Luke Shaw has been coping with his injury problems well.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
The Arsenal manager will remain quiet to the media until the transfer window closes as rumors swirl around the Emirates.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Alessandro Del Piero is going to the Indian Super League’s Dehli Dynamos, bringing to surface political debate in Italy.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The defending champions will look to open the season with three straight wins as Stoke City visit the Etihad.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Southampton may acquire Brek Shea via loan.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Wrapping up our journey through the Premier League with the last five alphabetical names out of the 20-flight teams.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT
The one-time largest transfer in Premier League history is moving to Italy on loan, the Stamford Bridge club confirmed today.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT
News from the senior teams for the United States men and women comes across the web this Friday afternoon. What’s cooking? Head inside.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Brendan Rodgers liked what he saw in training from the club’s newest signing, but says the troubled Italian must change his ways at Liverpool.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
A Diego Costa injury could hurt Chelsea’s chances as the Toffees look to rebound from a tough draw against Arsenal.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, PSG and Arsenal all make the transfer churner to end the workweek.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Can Paul Lambert and Roy Keane convince the midfielder to come to Villa Park?
Aug 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
LVG says the addition of ADM won’t change his approach to building how United plays soccer.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
Where and how to watch every single PL game this weekend.
Aug 29, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
The club season is in full swing, and there are plenty of American faces looking for three points this weekend.
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