Sporting Kansas City will face Real Salt Lake for the third time this season on Friday as they head to Rio Tinto Stadium for another rivalry duel. SKC drew 0-0 with RSL at Sporting Park in April, and then lost 2-1 in the dying moments in Salt Lake after an incredibly unfortunate Kevin Ellis own goal back in June.
The Blue Testament asks....
1) Real Salt Lake are in 7th place and just beneath the playoff line. Can we expect to see any moves before the window closes to lift them into the playoffs?
Soapbox: Yes. Well, let me make that about a 95% yes. Craig Waibel, the guy that took over for Garth Lagerwey, just stated the following in an interview: "I do feel pretty confident saying that in the next two weeks we'll be adding at least one piece." He went on to say that it will very likely be an international player and that we should know who it is in the coming days. My assumption is that it will be a forward since RSL just traded Alvaro Saborio for a midfielder in Luis Silva. RSL has not scored at the same rate this season that they normally do (although I would argue that it has largely been due to Joao Plata being out for the first four months.) My hope is that if it is in fact a forward, that with the new found form of Sebastian Jaime, the return of Plata, and this new international player,the RSL offense should start purring again.
2) Javier Morales has been playing incredible soccer and he tore apart SKC last time around. What do you have to do in order to keep him quiet?
Soapbox: To keep Morales at bay, you either have to double team him or have the defense park the bus in their own end. He is a quality player that is hard to stop. Sure, every player has a game now and again where not much is going well for them, but Morales has been at his best this year. I got this same question about a month ago and since then I have become more convinced that Morales is one of the most underrated players in the league. His vision and touch are both top notch and they only seem to be improving as he ages. A very organized midfield that stifles the players around Javier will slow him down, but not stop him.
3) Benny Feilhaber was pretty vocal about the hatred of RSL this season. Do Salt Lake fans feel the same about him? Do they hate the whole team? I'm curious what is said about the rivalry in your city.
Soapbox: The passionate fan definitely does not like Sporting KC or Benny Feilhaber. There is some hatred there. I can only speak for myself when I say that I was annoyed by his behavior in the MLS Cup a couple of years ago. I thought he was very whiny. On the other hand, I really like Benny Feilhaber's style of play and his personality off the field. I disagree with him on the sentiment that RSL is "snobby" or "think they're something special when they're not," but that kind of bantering is good for MLS at the end of the day. I think some of the hatred for each other comes from statements that Garth Lagerwey and current owner Dell Loy Hansen have make and continue to make about the physical play of Sporting KC, an overly physical preseason game in 2011, and the 2013 MLS Cup. This is how true rivalries are born, unlike some of the forced regional rivalries we have seen. The truth is that both clubs are very good and the more they meet in important games the more this rivalry will fester. That said, I expected more booing from fans the last time Feilhaber came to town. I suppose that the casual fan does not pay attention to what is being said around the league as much. Of all the teams in MLS at the moment, RSL fans probably hold the most disdain for Sporting KC and the LA Galaxy.
RSL Soapbox asks....
1) Is Benny Feilhaber the frontrunner for MLS MVP at the moment?
TBT: From my incredibly bias position, yes he is. I believe that he is not only the most valuable to his team, but that he has been the best all around player. Feilhaber and Giovinco are the clear candidates at this point. Giovinco has been incredible, but the work that Benny does on the other side of the ball is what pushes him above Sebastian for me. He will have a hand in every part of the game from defending, to creating chances, to finishing chances. This team was in flux quite a bit at the beginning of the season with injuries and newcomers, Benny held everything together. No joke... the guy was playing CB for a few minutes at one point this season. He makes everyone around him better. He will yell at a teammate (or the whole damn team) when they need to wake up and make something happen. The guy can WILL this team to results.
Since the playoff run in 2013, I believe Benny Feilhaber has consistently been the best player in MLS and I would love to see him get rewarded with MVP at the end of this year. Giovinco is going to score more goals, get more headlines and more money, but at the moment Feilhaber is the MVP.
2) Where does Real Salt Lake rank as far as being Sporting KC's rival?
TBT: They are clearly the number one rival. Benny made it clear how the team feels about them. Players for RSL have also been vocal about KC. But I do have to admit, fans here feel very much the same way. It definitely goes all the way back to MLS Cup and probably the "FU-KC" shirts that were made. During that time I think it was respect of RSL is what made it easy to hate. But in the last two years, every single game between has been very chippy. There are a lot of chances to yell and scream at a hard foul every game. The games are always a blast. Let's be honest, every one loves a rivalry and to hate another team. There are other teams that KC loves to hate like Seattle and Houston, but I think every game with RSL makes it very clear where the real rivalry is.
3) Sporting KC has allowed the least amount of goals in the league thus far. Did their defense improve with the departure of Collin?
TBT: Well, the stats don't lie! But really, I would have completely agreed had Ike Opara not been injured for the season. It was looking like Ike could have become defender of the year this season, and he would have been behind Collin had they given him DP money. But it is hard to say that Kevin Ellis is an improvement over Collin. The defensive stats will indeed look much better than last year. But so will almost every stat.
Last year was rough. Injuries and international duties ravaged the team. At times it felt like Feilhaber was the only real starter on the field. Moreover, there was no holding midfielder or a clear starting keeper. Much of the credit for the defensive prowess this season can be given to the emergence of Soni Mustivar at holding-mid and Tim Melia in goal. Obviously, to have the run of 5 shutouts in 6 games everyone has to be doing their job. So guys like Kevin Ellis and Amadou Dia have stepped up admirably, but Soni is garnering Uri Rosell comparisons and Melia has looked like a superhero.
So I don't know if the defense has technically improved from his departure, but nobody in KC is too beat up about losing him anymore!
(4-3-3) Chance Myers, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, Soni Mustivar, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Jacob Peterson
Sporting Kansas City 4 - 2 Real Salt Lake