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Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake: Preview, Predictions, Stats and Starting XI

It all comes down to this for both teams.

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MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake
Sunday may feel like a kick in the head to Sporting KC fans.
Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC vs Real Salt Lake

When: Sunday, November 7, 2021 at 5:00 PM CT (Kickoff 5:25)

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

How to Watch/Stream: Bally Sports KC (regionally) | Bally Sports Midwest (regionally) | Bally Sports App | ESPN+ (out of market or over VPN locally)
How to Listen: ESPN 94.5 FM | La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish)

Decision Day 2021. The Eastern Conference will play first and then the Western Conference will close out the night with everyone playing simultaneously with soooo much on the line. Sure Sporting KC are already in the playoffs and guaranteed a top three finish and a home game, but there is more to it than that (more on that in a moment).

However, I’m not sure any of the stakes will matter for Sporting Kansas City. They’ve looked absolutely ragged in their last two matches, particularly against last place Austin FC. This will be the fifth game in 15 days and it’s been basically the same lineup each time out. Based on Peter Vermes’ post-match press conference, I wouldn’t expect anything to change on Sunday (outside of injury replacements and the possible return of Alan Pulido).

Plus, Real Salt Lake enter Sunday desperate. They have everything to play for and it’s simple. They win and they are in the playoffs. They lose, they go home. They’ve got to get it done and what better team than their rival in Kansas City to have to beat. The site of the 2013 MLS Cup where they lost in brutal cold. It’ll be beautiful on Sunday though, enjoy it!

What’s on the Line for SKC?

Playoff positioning and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. Let’s tackle them separately.

CCL

You may be saying, ‘I remember 2019, I don’t want SKC play play in Champions League.’ And there may be some merit to that, but if they lose they get put into the last year of the ‘old’ Leagues Cup, which is super useless. If they are the first team to win CCL from MLS, that’s a forever thing that can never be taken away from you. Forever! They get into CCL with a first or second place finish.

Playoff Seeding

Right now, SKC are in 2nd place. They are a point behind the Seattle Sounders and level with the Colorado Rapids. SKC are even with Seattle on the first tiebreaker (goals) but now down one goal in goal differential (the second tie breaker). They are up significantly on Colorado in all but points, so they simply need to tie Colorado on points to finish ahead of them.

The Sounders are travelling to the red hot Vancouver Whitecaps who are not locked into the playoffs yet. And the Rapids are at home against a desperate LAFC team that needs to win (and get help) to get into the playoffs.

So to get into CCL, they just need to be level with Colorado. You can do all that math (if Colorado win, they need to win, if Colorado draw, they need to draw, etc.). It’s harder to get into first place after these back-to-back losses.

If Seattle wins, they are in first place. If they lose or draw, the door opens. Here are all the scenarios to finish first:

  1. Kansas City win vs. Salt Lake AND
  2. Seattle lose or tie vs. Vancouver

or:

  1. Kansas City tie vs. Salt Lake AND
  2. Seattle lose by more than one goal vs. Vancouver AND
  3. Colorado lose or tie vs. LAFC

or:

  1. Kansas City tie vs. Salt Lake AND
  2. Seattle lose by one goal vs. Vancouver AND
  3. Colorado lose or tie vs. LAFC AND
  4. Kansas City win total goals scored vs. Seattle

That’s right, in the third scenario KC can win on the third tiebreaker, goals scored. SKC currently have six more goals than Seattle, so it’s safe to say if they score six, they’ll win, and none of this would matter anyways.

Salt Lake’s Recent Form

Real Salt Lake currently sit in 8th place, one spot below the red line, and it’s definitely their fault. They’ve been nothing but inconsistent as of late.

Before this five game stretch they also lost to Austin and Portland again (6-1!) with some decent wins surrounding that (including over Seattle — thanks RSL).

Injuries/Availability*

Sporting KC

OUT - Felipe Hernandez (suspension), Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring), Alan Pulido (knee surgery)

QUESTIONABLE - Gadi Kinda (hamstring), Johnny Russell (lower body), Graham Zusi (lower body), Ilie Sanchez (lower body), Khiry Shelton (lower body)

*This has been updated based on the official injury report.

Real Salt Lake

OUT - Zack Farnsworth (undisclosed), Toni Datkovic (undisclosed)

QUESTIONABLE - None

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS: Daniel Salloi (16), Johnny Russell (15), Alan Pulido (8), Gadi Kinda (5), Khiry Shelton (3), Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Cam Duke (2), Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Hernandez, Luis Martins, Jose Mauri, Remi Walter (1)

ASSISTS: Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell (8), Khiry Shelton, Gadi Kinda (6), Graham Zusi (5), 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 (15), 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 (5), Meram, Pablo Ruiz (4), Andrew Brody, Chang, Danny Toia (2), four with one (1)

Starting XI Predictions

Usually I say this will have it’s own story. But what is the point? I’d imagine it’ll be the same starters, minus the Gadi Kinda injury. So it’s probably Roger Espinoza back into that spot and if we are lucky Pulido will be healthy enough to be a sub. It’s a terrible strategy and I have beat the drum over and over that some youth should start, then the “stars” can come on and make an impact since Peter Vermes will definitely go to his bench if he trusts those guys, versus he’ll nearly never go there if the ‘kids’ are on the bench.

Score Predictions

In the prior meetings between these teams this season, RSL won 3-1. In six of the last seven meetings between SKC and RSL in Kansas City, RSL have only lost once. They have KC’s number and I don’t expect that to change with the way that SKC have been playing as of late. As I stated earlier in the week, that doesn’t mean Sporting will be one and done in the playoffs, but it sure feels like they are going to back in.

Maybe RSL’s legs are dead too? They have played stunningly similar lineups very close together as well. Maybe in the case of two tired teams, SKC find that extra burst of energy from the home fans. Hell, they have two weeks to rest after Sunday, as long as they don’t get hurt they should be giving it all they have.

However, I won’t believe it until I see it. The home fans may lift them up, but with their penchant for early goals and struggles against RSL in recent seasons, I imagine it won’t turn out well.

(Update: With that awful Kansas City injury report coming out late Friday, this just feels more right. Ironically, if Vermes is forced to rotate his squad, maybe the kids will prove they deserve this. Plus, several RSL fans on Twitter said no way can they maintain a shut out.)

2-0 Real Salt Lake Win

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

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