Skip to content

MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship

Dec 7, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

SKC fans 3

KANSAS CITY – Playing careers will be defined and future coaching careers could be shaped Saturday on a bone-chilling afternoon at Sporting Park, where Major League Soccer’s 18th championship will be decided.

Sporting Kansas City will look for its second MLS Cup title overall, but the first for this current bunch, when the match against Real Salt Lake kicks off on ESPN just after 4 p.m. ET.

RSL, meanwhile, will aim for its second championship in five years, with many of the same central figures still around from the winners who triumphed over David Beckham and Landon Donovan in MLS Cup 2009, that one played in Seattle.

Saturday’s coaches are a big part of the plotlines here. RSL’s Jason Kreis was the youngest MLS manager to claim the title when he won in 2009 as a 36-year-old. He’s still considered one of the bright young minds of the business – so much so that well-heeled New York City FC has targeted Kreis as the choice to build their club. We’ll find out soon after Saturday’s contest if Salt Lake’s intense, introspective leader will remain in Utah or aim for something bigger.

On the other bench, a win Saturday for SKC manager Peter Vermes would tick the one unchecked box on his own promising managerial career. Kansas City has been a solid performer and U.S. Open Cup winner over the last three seasons, but this is his first time in the league’s ultimate match. Win Saturday and, who knows, perhaps we’ll all start mentioning Vermes along with Kreis as a potential, future U.S. national team manager.

The other looming story line: We already know Saturday’s match will set a record for coldest MLS Cup yet, much further on the frigid scale than the other chilly championships, rainy nights in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and in Seattle in 2009, and a wind-swept night in Toronto in 2010. Temperatures were in the low 40s for those; they’ll be down into the low 20s at best, and perhaps into the teens at Sporting Park.

An underground heating system should keep the field from freezing; it looked to be holding up fine as Real Salt Lake trained there Friday afternoon.

This is Major League Soccer’s second year under a format that gives host duties to the finalist with a better record. The net out means unpredictable weather, but the atmosphere inside a packed ground will be worlds beyond all those years of neutral-site deciders witnessed by largely indifferent audiences.

How will the game play out? Defensively, most likely, thanks to the dominant figures involved; A majority of the best players at Sporting Park on Saturday will be goal preventers more than goal producers, the goalkeepers, defenders and defensive-minded midfielders.

This crop of crème starts with Real Salt Lake center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler have found the sweet spot lately, a major reason RSL dispatched the two-time MLS defending champion LA Galaxy and then blew past Portland, which was everyone’s stylish choice to win the West.

source: Getty ImagesBut Sporting KC’s pair of center backs stand every bit as respected: U.S. international Matt Besler is the brains and irascible Frenchman Aurelien Collin is the brawn, if you will. Either way, they are quite effective, guiding the way to the league’s top goals against average over 2013.

There are, of course, goal scorers afoot, too. Robbie Findley, who scored in RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup win, has been huge in this year’s playoffs. Playmaker Javier Morales (left, in the middle) has been exceptional, as well, and the ability to find Findley on the break (probably behind one of the SKC fullbacks if they stray too far into the attack) is RSL’s top scoring ploy.

For the home team, during the Eastern Conference finals win over Houston, former U.S. international Benny Feilhaber was finally the playmaking presence everyone thought he could be upon this year’s arrival into the heartland. On their games, he and fellow pass-master Graham Zusi operating out of the 4-3-3 can create plenty of opportunities for whichever forwards are up in something of a rotation Kansas City.

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

Sporting Kansas City’s key players

  • Team versus team

MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

MLS Cup positional edges: Forwards

  • 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. Liverpool plays to compact 1-0 win over Olympiacos

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT

    LiverpoolOlympiacos AP

    Liverpool looks focused on improving its shape heading into the upcoming Premier League season.

  2. MLS Roundup: Dallas pulls out heroic draw, Valeri gives Timbers late win

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:17 PM EDT

    Fernandez Getty Images

    Raul Fernandez held Vancouver to a draw while Portland won a 3-2 barnburner with Montreal.

  3. Petr Cech says he won’t back down at Chelsea anytime soon

    Jul 27, 2014, 7:24 PM EDT

    Cech Getty Images

    With Thibaut Courtois hot on his trail, Petr Cech isn’t about to let the youngster’s hype get in the way of his 11-year Chelsea career.

  4. VIDEO: Mario Balotelli takes amazing selfie with two pitch invaders

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT

    Source, Twitter: @NA_B27 Source, Twitter: @NA_B27

    AC Milan got hosed, but Mario Balotelli had some fun as a second-half substitute.

  5. Martinez tells Everton fans “of course we’ll get” Lukaku

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:26 PM EDT

    MartinezLukaku Getty Images

    It may have been in jest, but Roberto Martinez has set rumors alight.

  6. Teams confirm Dejan Lovren completes transfer from Southampton to Liverpool

    Jul 27, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT

    Lovren Getty Images

    Lovern becomes the third Southampton player to move to Liverpool this summer.

  7. Four thoughts from Manchester City vs. AC Milan (including Balotelli’s on-field selfie!)

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:56 PM EDT

    20140727-181926.jpg

    AC Milan got thumped for the second straight US preseason friendly. What does it mean?

  8. Premier League return for Van der Vaart? His old manager Redknapp hopes so

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT

    VanderVaart AP

    Having played under Redknapp for 2 years at Spurs, the QPR boss wants him back.

  9. Jan Vertonghen says Spurs have offered him a new 5-year contract

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT

    Vertonghen Getty Images

    With a good World Cup, Spurs has affirmed the importance of Jan Vertonghen’s presence to their back line.

  10. Carlo Tavecchio in racism row after calling African players “banana eaters”

    Jul 27, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Closed stands at the Stadio Olimpico reflect Roma fans' punishment for 'territorially discriminatory' chants aimed at Napoli fans. Closed stands at the Stadio Olimpico reflect Roma fans' punishment for 'territorially discriminatory' chants aimed at Napoli fans.

    What Italy needs is an FIGC president that works to prevent racism, not one that uses racist terms when referring to players from elsewhere.

  11. Cuauhtémoc Blanco is back in the top division of Mexican soccer

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:19 PM EDT

    blanco AP

    At 41 years of age, the forward has made a return with Puebla, although he was unable to help his new side break a goalless draw.

  12. Michael Bradley was none too pleased with officials in Toronto’s loss to Kansas City

    Jul 27, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    michael_bradley Getty Images

    The referee handed out eight yellows and sent a Kansas City player off, although they still came back to take all three points.

  13. Pep Guardiola has a job for life at Bayern Munich

    Jul 27, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Champions League AP

    The manager can stop worrying — he doesn’t need to keep bringing in multiple trophies to keep his job with the Bavarian giants.

  14. Thierry Henry evades questions on retirement

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT

    Thierry Henry, Oriol Rosell, Soony Saad AP

    The New York Red Bulls star and former France international is adopting a wait-and-see approach to the end of his playing career.

  15. Loïc Rémy fails medical, move to Liverpool is off

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:42 AM EDT

    Newcastle United's Remy celebrates his goal against Tottenham Hotspur during their English Premier League soccer match at White Hart Lane in London Reuters

    It’s back to QPR for the forward, while Brendan Rodgers will need to seek other options to help compensate for the loss of Luis Suárez.

  16. Arsenal confirm signing of Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina

    Jul 27, 2014, 9:54 AM EDT

    ospina AP

    It’s official! The Colombia goalkeeper joins the Gunners on a long-term contract, and is expected to make his first appearance next month.

  17. Inter consider swapping Fredy Guarín for Manchester United’s Chicharito

    Jul 27, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT

    guarin Getty Images

    Internazionale need more firepower up top. United need more depth in midfield. This switch seems like an ideal solution.

  18. Carlo Ancelotti expects Ángel di María back for preseason training

    Jul 27, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT

    angel_di_maria Getty Images

    The Real Madrid manager seems to enjoy destroying the hopes of players, clubs and fans by putting to rest rumors of summer transfers.