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US Open Cup semifinals: Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake Preview

Sporting Kansas City and rival Real Salt Lake battle for a right to a berth in the US Open Cup final.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

About the Teams

Sporting Kansas City

Sporting KC are in a really good spot right now. They are in the semifinals of the US Open Cup, within striking distance of the top of the league with games in hand and just came off a surprising 3-1 win in Toronto. While they lost midfielder Roger Espinoza for likely the regular season, they have last year's starter Paulo Nagamura ready to slide in as his replacement. Graham Zusi, who strained his calf in warmups against Toronto FC, will be a gametime decision and, if he is not able to go, look for Connor Hallisey or Jacob Peterson to replace him. Dom Dwyer is also rested after being suspended for the Saturday match.

Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake rested several key starters this past Saturday in preparation for this match -- including Javier Morales, Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Joao Plata -- and were thoroughly drubbed by Vancouver, 4-0. They're defense has been a sieve, letting in at least two goals in their last five matches and ten combined in their past two. However, they have been able to string together a couple of wins and with their two best attacking options, best midfielder and fantastic goalkeeper all rested, they represent a huge threat to Sporting Kansas City's title hopes.

Who to Watch

Sporting Kansas City- Benny Feilhaber

Benny Feilhaber, with twelve assists, eight goals and an unmeasurable impact on Sporting KC's success this season, has been an MVP candidate and the face of the Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake rivalry for the past couple of seasons. He's come up big in several situations this season and this is a game where he is really going to have to run Sporting KC's attack. If Graham Zusi is out, the wing instantly gets weaker and the middle becomes the focus of the attack. He'll need to wreak havoc among Kyle Beckerman and the Real Salt Lake back line to give Sporting KC the opportunities they need to score.

Real Salt Lake- Kyle Beckerman

Beckerman is one of the best midfielders in Major League Soccer, and for good reason. His ability to disrupt attackers, then turn on a dime and send a ball forward to the dangerous attack duo of Morales and Plata. His biggest foe this match, and it's the same the other way, is Benny Feilhaber and their matchup could be huge in deciding the match. What Beckerman needs to do is disrupt Feilhaber and shut down Sporting KC's attack in the middle. Sporting does have options on the wings, but with Dom Dwyer being a much better forward with service through the middle, Beckerman needs to shut down the midfield.

How They'll Win

Sporting Kansas City

Despite the difference in standing, Real Salt Lake have had Sporting KC's number this year, taking seven of nine possible points in three matches. In all three matches, it's been ugly, physical and low-scoring. Sporting needs to take the tempo early and score in the first half, making Real Salt Lake play from behind. Sporting also needs to limit set pieces, which they've struggled against this season. Real Salt Lake's defense has not been good recently but they do have good attacking options. Sporting need to make sure their defense is more of a liability than their attack is a benefactor.

Real Salt Lake

Sporting KC have struggled against set pieces and have struggled when they are entered into a physical battle of a match, two things that are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Beckerman is going to be huge in this game in turning the ball around and keeping Sporting KC away from the back line. Keeping the ball in Sporting KC's defensive half will increase the chances for set pieces, increase the possibility of Morales or Plata getting behind the defense and, most importantly, keeps Sporting KC's attack away from the net.

Predictions

Lineups

Ben's Sporting KC Lineup: Melia; Dia, Besler, Ellis, Myers; Mustivar, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Nemeth, Dwyer, Zusi

Reader's Poll SKC Lineup: Melia; Dia, Besler, Ellis, Myers; Mustivar, Nagamura, Feilhaber; Nemeth, Dwyer, Zusi

Scoreline