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Playoff Preview: Sporting Kansas City versus Real Salt Lake

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A battle of bitter Western Conference Rivals with a spot in the Conference Finals on the line.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC vs Real Salt Lake

When: Sunday, November 28, 2021 at 2:00 PM CT (Kickoff 2:18)

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

How to Watch/Stream: ABC | ESPN Deportes

The playoffs. A time for intense drama and where anything can happen. Going into Tuesday night’s playoff matchup between Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders, the home team was a perfect 5-0 (including Sporting Kansas City’s win over the Vancouver Whitecaps). After 120 minutes of soccer and a margin of 21 shots to zero in favor of Seattle, that game went to penalty kicks and in the sixth round, RSL won it.

It wasn’t without drama. In the second round, Stephan Frei stepped off his line to negate a PK he stopped, which would be made on the second attempt. Then in the sixth round, former Sporting KC and RSL player, Kelyn Rowe, would have his shot stopped to leave an opening for Salt Lake. Then the game winning PK was deflected, hit the post and rolled across the goal line headed towards the other post, but ultimately going into the net. No double post and out for RSL. What drama!

Real Salt Lake will need to try to recover from that to hit the road again on Sunday to face their rival, Sporting KC. They flew home in the middle of the night after the win and they play an early afternoon game on Sunday. That’s about four and a half days between the end of one game and the start of another. It’s really some terrible scheduling by MLS, but it’s benefiting Kansas City for once, so I believe we can let it slide. Also, RSL are the seven seed, they deserve no advantages. They shouldn’t even be in the playoffs. (If Seattle had advanced, they’d actually have reason to pout.)

When the game does kick off on Sunday, Sporting KC will be looking to reverse some recent trends. They are 0-2*-0 against RSL this year. Losing in Utah and again on Decision Day. They are 14-16-10 lifetime against Salt Lake. And perhaps most damning, they are 3-10-5 against RSL in regular season play dating back to 2014. Since that 2013 MLS Cup win over Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC have been on the wrong side of this equation a lot.

If we try to justify that a little bit and explain it away, I think we can. The 3-1 loss at Rio Tinto in Sandy, Utah was the 3rd game of the year. This team hadn’t found it’s form and KC are pretty dang bad at altitude despite being Sporting Fit. Then the Decision Day loss occurred for SKC without all three of their Designated Players and playing their fifth game in 15 days. It feels like Sunday should be very different.

Salt Lakes’ Recent Form

  • October 27th @ FC Dallas - 2-1 Win
  • October 30th vs San Jose Earthquakes - 3-4 Loss
  • November 3rd vs Portland Timbers - 1-3 Loss
  • November 7th @ Sporting KC - 1-0 Win
  • November 23rd @ Seattle Sounders - 0-0 Draw (6-5 Win on PKs)

RSL simply can’t score goals and they may be without their second leading scorer in Albert Rusnak who missed Tuesday due to COVID-19 protocols (it sounds like he’ll miss Sunday too). Considering SKC are the league’s second highest goal scoring team, that feels like a positive.

Injuries/Availability*

Sporting KC

OUT - Felipe Hernandez (suspension), Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring)

QUESTIONABLE - Unknown

*This will be updated based on the official injury report.

Real Salt Lake

OUT - Albert Rusnak (COVID-19), Zack Farnsworth (undisclosed)

QUESTIONABLE - Unknown

Stats (including Playoffs)

Sporting KC

GOALS: Daniel Salloi (16), Johnny Russell (15), Alan Pulido (8), Gadi Kinda (5), Khiry Shelton (4), Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Cam Duke (2), Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Hernandez, Luis Martins, Jose Mauri, Remi Walter, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Graham Zusi (1)

ASSISTS: Daniel Salloi (10), Johnny Russell (8), Khiry Shelton, Gadi Kinda, Graham Zusi (6), Luis Martins (4), Gianluca Busio, Alan Pulido (3), Felipe Hernandez, Roger Espinoza (2), Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Remi Walter, Jose Mauri (1)

Real Salt Lake

GOALS: Damir Kreilach (16), Albert Rusnak (11), Anderson Julio, Rubio Rubin (8), Maikel Chang, Justin Glad, Justin Meram, Bobby Wood (2), three with one (1)

ASSISTS: Aaron Herrera, Rusnak (11), Kreilach (9), Jonathan Menendez, Rubin, Meram (5), Pablo Ruiz (4), Andrew Brody, Chang, Danny Toia (2), four with one (1)

Starting XI Predictions

This has to get it’s own story for a playoff game, right? Coming soon...

Score Predictions

If there is one team the “super powers” don’t want to play in the playoffs it’s RSL. They went in to Seattle and won in PKs, against the odds. They upset LAFC when they were on their historic run for an expansion side in 2018. They’ve upset Kansas City before too. If you think honestly about the 2013 MLS Cup, RSL were the better team. But they found a way to lose.

I believe that is what is going to happen on Sunday too (the losing part, not the better team portion). Real Salt Lake will keep it close. They are capable of playing compact and can be tough to break down. But with Kansas City getting all their weapons back, there are just too many ways for them to beat you. Plus, if their hope is to drag it to PKs, Tim Melia isn’t going to let in six straight goals like Frei did (however, it should be noted he’s 0-3 on PKs faced including the playoffs in 2021).

With the playoffs, anything can happen. Look at RSL even being here still. And Kansas City cannot rest for a moment. They need to challenge every ball and push hard, knowing any mistake could end their season. I just think they are the best team in the West and this will take them one step closer to proving it. I think if they get going early, they could put in a bunch of goals. But I’m going to guess RSL keeps it close and stressful.

2-1 Sporting KC Win

What do you think? Predictions in the comments are welcome. Let’s chat about it.

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