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. MLS roundup: 20 goals in 4 games Saturday night — WATCH THEM ALL!

    Apr 26, 2015, 12:44 AM EDT

    Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo Tyler Deric, Houston Dynamo

    It was a bad night to be a goalkeeper. A really, really bad night.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 1-2 D.C. United

    Apr 26, 2015, 12:36 AM EDT

    Michael Farfan, D.C. United & Octavio Rivero, Vancouver Whitecaps Michael Farfan, D.C. United & Octavio Rivero, Vancouver Whitecaps

    Winning on the road in MLS is always impressive. Doing it 3,000 miles from home and with a five-man bench is downright remarkable.

  3. MLS Snapshot: Houston Dynamo 4-4 Sporting Kansas City

    Apr 25, 2015, 10:55 PM EDT

    Jalil Anibaba, Sporting Kansas City Jalil Anibaba, Sporting Kansas City

    MLS Game of the Year? Probably. It had a little bit of everything, including some amazing goals you HAVE to see.

  4. MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 4-0 Real Salt Lake

    Apr 25, 2015, 9:42 PM EDT

    Juan Agudelo, New England Revolution Juan Agudelo, New England Revolution

    Good luck stopping the Revs, now that they’ve got a head of steam behind them. Another Cup run looks likely.

  5. MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew SC 4-1 Philadelphia Union

    Apr 25, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT

    Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC

    Crew SC’s four-headed attacking monster completely shredded the Union’s defense. The Black and Gold are very for real.

  6. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Barcelona keep pressure on Real Madrid; Inter Milan top Roma

    Apr 25, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT

    Lionel Messi & Neymar, FC Barcelona Getty Images

    As long as Barcelona keep winning, the La Liga title is theirs. The way they’re going at the moment, they might just win out.

  7. WATCH: The 2 Robbies discuss which Premier League teams will be relegated

    Apr 25, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT

    Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies

    With four teams separated by two points for the final relegation place, it’s becoming an absolute dogfight. The 2 Robbies break it down.

  8. Pearson: “It doesn’t matter how you win games,” as Leicester inch closer to safety

    Apr 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC

    When in a relegation dogfight, win any way you can. That’s the message from Nigel Pearson, and that’s what Leicester City have done.

  9. Pellegrini: Victory over Aston Villa “one of our worst games of the season”

    Apr 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City FC Getty Images

    Play poorly and win, or play well and lose? You can’t always have it both ways, which benefitted Man City on Saturday.

  10. Sherwood: Aston Villa “controlled the game” against Manchester City

    Apr 25, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Tim Sherwood, Aston Villa FC Getty Images

    Sherwood’s men were certainly hard done by away to Manchester City. It’s hard not to agree with the Villa boss.

  11. Promotion Watch: Watford officially promoted; disaster for Middlesbrough

    Apr 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Fulham v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Getty Images

    With Watford officially promoted, who’s next? (Hint: It won’t be Boro.)

  12. Brendan Rodgers laments Liverpool’s lack of goals after firing another blank

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT

    West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Rodgers: “It’s an area we’ll look at in the summer.”

  13. Manchester City 3-2 Aston Villa: Stunning finish sees City hold on after Guzan’s blunder

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Manchester City v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    Citizens survive second half Villa comeback to move up to second, cement spot in top four.

  14. Bundesliga wrap: Schweinsteiger strikes late for Bayern, Hamburg earns huge win

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Three of four “bottom five” clubs who played on Saturday picked up a point, including one side scooping up a massive three points to leap off the bottom of the table.

  15. VIDEO: Watch Lionel Messi score 50th goal of season, 401st for Barcelona

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT

    RCD Espanyol v FC Barcelona - La Liga Getty Images

    Messi now has at least 50 goals in four seasons during his career.

  16. Watch Watford’s team bus learn they’ve been promoted to the Premier League (video)

    Apr 25, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPTUwYWUwMzI2NGZiNGMxMjhmOGYwY2I2NmVmY2Q0MmJm Getty Images

    Mexico national teamer Miguel Layun posted this video on Twitter, as the club learns its been promoted and the bus goes absolutely bonkers.

  17. VIDEO: Guzan’s colossal error gifts Aguero and Man City an easy 1-0 lead

    Apr 25, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Stoke City v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    Aguero? He doesn’t miss from there, and the USMNT keeper was left with his head in his hands. It’s 1-0 City at half.

  18. Newcastle United 2-3 Swansea City: Swans roll, Magpies haven’t won since February

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Swans found goals from Nelson Olivera, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jack Cork to build a 3-1 lead before Siem de Jong netted late.

  19. Back in the big time: Watford promoted to the Premier League

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT

    Brighton & Hove Albion v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Getty Images

    The Hornets are back in the PL for just the third time in their history.

Featured video

Should Chelsea be more entertaining?