Real Salt Lake-Sporting Kansas City Preview
Pablo Mastroeni believes much will be expected for Sporting Kansas City in their Western Conference semifinal on Sunday, when visitors Real Salt Lake will be happy simply with a result.
That was certainly the story for RSL as they stunned the Seattle Sounders on penalties after being outplayed at Lumen Field.
Mastroeni's men are back on the road again against Sporting KC, who have already enjoyed a first home win of this playoff campaign against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
"The onus is on the home team to put on a show," Mastroeni said. "The onus is on us to find a way to win."
It is the second meeting between the teams in Kansas City this month, following a dramatic Decision Day win for RSL.
A controversial encounter was settled by Damir Kreilach's 95th-minute goal, denying Sporting KC qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League.
"We're totally over that," coach Peter Vermes said. "That has nothing to do with any of this now. The season ended. We had to move on. We did."
In fact, Vermes hopes Sporting KC will continue to be better for facing adversity, adding: "The mentality is good. It's always been really good all season long.
"There's been a great consistency. Even in times when maybe something had happened, they've learned and got better from it."
But RSL believe they know exactly what to expect, even if that is not a straightforward task.
"We just played them. We understand what they're trying to do," Mastroeni said. "Now we've just got to find a way to get after it and come away with a result from another difficult place to play.
"It doesn't get easier; it gets harder, and we know what we're up against."
Sporting Kansas City - Daniel Salloi
Salloi scored 16 goals this year but could not hit the net against RSL on the final day of the season despite having six attempts. He bounced back by assisting two of Sporting KC's goals against Vancouver and will now hope to return to the scoresheet.
Real Salt Lake - David Ochoa
RSL defeated Seattle despite having zero shots to their hosts' 21, although the Sounders only worked Ochoa on three occasions. It was in the shoot-out that the visiting goalkeeper came to the fore, making the decisive stop. "I'm not going to let anybody get in my way to stop me from achieving my dreams," Ochoa said ahead of this game.
- Real Salt Lake won both meetings against Sporting Kansas City this season, winning 3-1 at home on May 1 before a dramatic 1-0 win on Decision Day in Kansas City. RSL were the only team to record multiple wins over Sporting in 2021 and could become the first team to beat them three times in a season (including playoffs) since Colorado in 2016.
- This will be the third postseason tie between Sporting and RSL, with Sporting winning the first two (2013 MLS Cup and 5-3 on aggregate in the 2018 conference semifinals). The only opponent Sporting have eliminated from the playoffs three times in club history is Colorado. Sporting are the only team RSL have faced more than once without ever knocking out in postseason play.
- Sporting are trying to reach their ninth conference final berth in club history. The only team to reach the conference finals more in MLS history are the LA Galaxy, who have done so 13 times, as Sporting, New England, Columbus and Chicago have reached the last four eight times each.
- Real Salt Lake's clean sheets at Sporting and Seattle were just their second set of consecutive shutouts this season - also against Colorado and Houston in July. RSL have not kept three successive clean sheets in MLS play since a run of four straight in October and November 2014.
- Reaching the conference semifinals has become habit for Real Salt Lake, as this will be their 10th appearance in the last eight. Since RSL's first conference semifinal appearance in 2008, only Seattle (12) have made more appearances at this stage of the postseason.
Updated November 27, 2021