Skip to content

MLS Cup positional edges: Looks at the midfields for Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City

Dec 6, 2013, 3:30 PM EST

CONCACAF CS Herediano Real Salt Lake Soccer

Conventionally we think of Sporting Kansas City having a three-man midfield (4-3-3 formation) and Real Salt Lake with a four (4-4-2), but that’s our lazy numeric notation letting us down. Though they set up differently, each midfield functions as a three-plus-one with some  comparable roles. Vaguely:

  • The Holders: Kyle Beckerman is the most established defensive midfielder in the league, while Spaniard Oriol Rosell is an up-and-coming talent.
  • The Shuttlers: Veterans Paulo Nagamura and Ned Grabavoy provide give each team a box-to-box presence, able to complement the holder with help in front of the defense or get into the box and tip the balance in the attacking third.
  • The Connectors: Both Luis Gil and Benny Feilhaber provide their trio’s skill – players who can serve as outlets and turn on the ball at the edge of their own defensive third.
  • The Plus-Ones: They aren’t outright midfielders, but beyond the defensive third, Javier Morales and Graham Zusi are the team’s focal points, finding space between the forwards and midfielders that allows them to orchestrate their team’s opportunities.

Player for player, Real Salt Lake may have a slight advantage, but when we’re assessing edges for Saturday’s final, the players don’t exist in a vacuum. They match up against each other. Kyle Beckerman, with help from Grabavoy and Gil, will have to contain Zusi and account for Feilhaber and the oncoming Nagamura. Oriol Rosell and Nagamura will be charged with making life difficult for Morales.

We’ve seen RSL enough to know that years of experience in their system leaves Gil and Grabavoy less likely to overlook a runner, forget where they need to be when be as the midfield shifts, or misread an attacking chance that leaves the team light through the middle. But can we say the same for Feilhaber, who – for all as talents going forward, and his huge contribution defensively against Houston – is neither an old hand in this role nor consistent in providing that defensive presence?

It’s not that Feilhaber’s oblivious, loafing around the field, thumbing at his iPhone until you pass him the ball. He’s not. But if you’re looking for potential differences between the two units, this is one.

As with the goalkeepers and defense, this is practically a push, and depending on your point of view, that will either make for a great game or a stalemate. But if you’re asking who you’d rather have right now, in the roles they’ll play on Saturday, and given their current form:

  • Morales or Zusi?
  • Beckerman or Rosell?
  • Grabavoy and Gil or Feilhaber and Nagamura?

It’s a close call, but given one of these teams is defined and prides itself on how they setup and perform through the middle, it’s not surprise the Claret and Cobalt edge this one.

EDGE: Slight Real Salt Lake

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

  • Team versus team

MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

Latest Posts
  1. Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:10 AM EST

    West Bromwich Albion's Reid shouts at Arsenal's Cazorla during their English Premier League soccer match in London Reuters

    The Baggies are coming off losses to Chelsea and Newcastle, and are four points back of eighth place Arsenal. The NBCSN match kicks at 745am ET.

  2. Pick just three?!? FIFPro World XI midfielder shortlist is Juve-heavy, really good

    Nov 28, 2014, 9:37 AM EST

    FC Internazionale Milano v Juventus - Serie A Getty Images

    Spain (4) and Germany (3) are the only nations with multiple members.

  3. Roy Keane’s time with Aston Villa has come to an end

    Nov 28, 2014, 8:35 AM EST

    Aston Villa v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester United’s legendary midfielder will stay in his assistant coach role for Ireland, spend more time with his family.

  4. Feature on Kevin Alston details Revolution defender’s battle with leukemia

    Nov 28, 2014, 7:58 AM EST

    New England Revolution v New York Red Bulls - Eastern Conference Final - Leg 1 Getty Images

    Vice Sports writer Kevin Koczwara has the story of Alston’s fight with chronic myelogenous leukemia.

  5. New England Revolution, 90 minutes from MLS Cup, must simply avoid second-leg disaster vs. Red Bulls

    Nov 27, 2014, 11:15 PM EST

    Steve Clark, Lee Nguyen, Charlie Davies Steve Clark, Lee Nguyen, Charlie Davies

    It’s been a long time since the New England Revolution lost by mulitple goals, which the New York Red Bulls must achieve to reach MLS Cup 2014.

  6. Europa League roundup: Spurs, Celtic advance; Inter Milan, Fiorentina clinch top spots

    Nov 27, 2014, 9:26 PM EST

    The big Europa League sides have begun to advance to the knockout round, with a few more very close to joining them.

  7. Everton win Europa League group, qualify for knockout round

    Nov 27, 2014, 4:09 PM EST

    Toffees seal spot in Europa League knockout rounds after terrific away day display.

  8. Five investigated, including three FIFA execs, in World Cup corruption probe

    Nov 27, 2014, 3:17 PM EST

    64th FIFA Congress 64th FIFA Congress

    Three FIFA ExCo members and German legend latest to be under the spotlight.

  9. Pele moved to “special care” unit as treatment continues

    Nov 27, 2014, 2:05 PM EST

    Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele AP

    Brazilian legend hospitalized for second time this month.

  10. English FA charge Dave Whelan after anti-Semitic, racist comments

    Nov 27, 2014, 1:15 PM EST

    Barnsley v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet Championship Getty Images

    Whelan charged by FA over accusations of anti-Semitic, racist remarks.

  11. VIDEO: PST Extra examines huge top four showdowns in Premier League

    Nov 27, 2014, 10:55 AM EST

    Hull City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Getty Images

    Can Spurs and Everton make a top four charge? Will Saints stun Man City?

  12. Huge blow for Arsenal as Jack Wilshere is out for three months

    Nov 27, 2014, 9:13 AM EST

    Wilshere AP

    Wilshere has surgery on left ankle, as young midfielder set for another lengthy spell on the sidelines.

  13. Bob Bradley talks Stabaek, job offers, offseason plans and more

    Nov 27, 2014, 8:51 AM EST

    Bradley, Stabaek

    Bradley opens up about his first season at Stabaek, his future in Europe and much more.

  14. USA drop five places in latest FIFA world rankings; England on the up

    Nov 27, 2014, 7:28 AM EST

    Ireland US Soccer AP

    Klinsmann’s men drop further in FIFA’s latest rankings.

  15. Arsene Wenger hails his team’s attitude, Sanogo and the path forward

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:30 PM EST

    FBL-EUR-C1-ARSENAL-ANDERLECHT-TRAINING Getty Images

    Wenger was in good spirits following his side’s victory that put an end to his two-match losing skid.

  16. Ross Barkley Divegate: Why Martinez defends him and what it means

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:50 PM EST

    Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Getty Images

    Yes, Barkley dove and yes, (news flash) Martinez is overly protective of his players.

Featured video

PST Extra: Top 4 showdowns on Sunday