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
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.
But 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
- Sporting Kansas City
- Team versus team
- MLS Cup general
Jul 27, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT
Liverpool looks focused on improving its shape heading into the upcoming Premier League season.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:17 PM EDT
Raul Fernandez held Vancouver to a draw while Portland won a 3-2 barnburner with Montreal.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:08 PM EDT
This may not be as toast as it first appeared.
Jul 27, 2014, 7:24 PM EDT
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.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
AC Milan got hosed, but Mario Balotelli had some fun as a second-half substitute.
Jul 27, 2014, 6:26 PM EDT
It may have been in jest, but Roberto Martinez has set rumors alight.
Jul 27, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
Lovern becomes the third Southampton player to move to Liverpool this summer.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:56 PM EDT
AC Milan got thumped for the second straight US preseason friendly. What does it mean?
Jul 27, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
Having played under Redknapp for 2 years at Spurs, the QPR boss wants him back.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
With a good World Cup, Spurs has affirmed the importance of Jan Vertonghen’s presence to their back line.
Jul 27, 2014, 3:24 PM EDT
Pjanic is good at kicking – all kinds of it.
Jul 27, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
What Italy needs is an FIGC president that works to prevent racism, not one that uses racist terms when referring to players from elsewhere.
Jul 27, 2014, 2:19 PM EDT
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.
Jul 27, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT
The referee handed out eight yellows and sent a Kansas City player off, although they still came back to take all three points.
Jul 27, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
The manager can stop worrying — he doesn’t need to keep bringing in multiple trophies to keep his job with the Bavarian giants.
Jul 27, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
The New York Red Bulls star and former France international is adopting a wait-and-see approach to the end of his playing career.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:42 AM EDT
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.
Jul 27, 2014, 9:54 AM EDT
It’s official! The Colombia goalkeeper joins the Gunners on a long-term contract, and is expected to make his first appearance next month.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
Internazionale need more firepower up top. United need more depth in midfield. This switch seems like an ideal solution.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT
The Real Madrid manager seems to enjoy destroying the hopes of players, clubs and fans by putting to rest rumors of summer transfers.
- VIDEO: Mario Balotelli takes amazing selfie with two pitch invaders 0
- Teams confirm Dejan Lovren completes transfer from Southampton to Liverpool 0
- Loïc Rémy fails medical, move to Liverpool is off 5
- Ángel Di María approaching Paris Saint-Germain move 0
- Personal terms all that separates Griezmann from $40 million move to Atlético Madrid 0
- Manuel Pellegrini talks title ambitions, Manchester City vs. AC Milan, US tour 1