"Five Things" is a season-long series presented by the Children's Mercy Sports Medicine Center that highlights the top storylines and players to watch ahead of each match. To visit the series archive, click here.
Sporting Kansas City (1-0-1, 4 points) and Real Salt Lake (1-0-0, 3 points) will write the next chapter of their longstanding Western Conference rivalry on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The early afternoon showdown is slated for 1 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app as well as ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
As the calendar turns to May, and with both sides looking to preserve their unbeaten starts to the 2021 campaign, we examine five major storylines surrounding Saturday’s matchup in the space below.
1. Bolstered Attack
Manager Peter Vermes’ side should be feeling pretty good about taking four points from their first two games. A resolute 2-1 road win over the New York Red Bulls was followed by an evenly played 1-1 home draw against Orlando City SC last weekend. What makes the feat impressive is the fact that Sporting has secured back-to-back results without two of their most gifted players—striker Alan Pulido and captain Johnny Russell—at full fitness.
Pulido and Russell have come off the bench for second-half cameos in each of Sporting’s first two matches, but both could be poised for increased roles on Saturday. That’s nothing but good news, of course, as the dynamic duo finished tied atop the club’s regular season scoring charts last year.
2. Salloi Surging
After leading Sporting with 16 goals in all competitions in 2018, forward Daniel Salloi saw his productivity dip in 2019 and 2020. The talented Sporting KC Academy product enjoyed a strong 2021 preseason, however, and early returns in the regular season suggest the 24-year-old Hungarian has regained form and confidence in the attacking third.
Salloi delivered a strong Week 1 performance at New York, notching the game-winning goal to complete a gutsy comeback at Red Bull Arena. A week later at Children’s Mercy Park, he single-handedly created an Orlando turnover, won possession and cut the ball back for fellow Homegrown Player Gianluca Busio to open the scoring. The last time Salloi had scored or assisted in back-to-back MLS matches was October 2018.
3. Dazzling Debutants
Led by third-year head coach Freddy Juarez, Real Salt Lake has a new look this season. Gone are MLS ironman Kyle Beckerman, forward Corey Baird and experienced defender Nedum Onuoha. Experienced veterans Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnak have returned alongside U.S. U-23 standouts Aaron Herrera and Justen Glad. Notable reinforcements have come in the form of U.S. international Rubio Rubin and winger Anderson Julio, both of whom dazzled in their MLS debuts as RSL knocked off Minnesota United FC away from home last Saturday.
Julio etched his name onto the scoresheet twice before halftime, with both assists coming from Rubin, to help Juarez’s side to an impressive 2-1 win at Allianz Field in Minnesota. If Julio and Rubin stay hot and Kreilach and Rusnak add reliable production of their own, RSL could make some serious noise in 2021.
4. Young Keepers
Two of the best young goalkeepers in MLS belong to Sporting and Real Salt Lake, respectively. On April 17, and at the tender age of 19 years and 363 days, Sporting’s John Pulskamp became the third-youngest keeper in MLS history to win a match and six days later made his home debut at Children’s Mercy Park. On the opposite sideline, 20-year-old U.S. youth international David Ochoa became RSL’s youngest goalkeeper to win a game.
If Pulskamp and Ochoa line up against each other on Saturday, they will have a combined age of 40 years and 118 days—the youngest combination of two opposing goalkeepers ever in an MLS match.
5. Rivalry Renewed
It’s a rivalry unlike most others—not based on close geography, decades of history or subversive actions between fan bases. Rather, over the last decade, it’s a rivalry that has stemmed from frequency, from polarizing players who have served a major role in the story, and from moments of epic grandeur.
Ever since the rivalry developed from a bench-clearing preseason brawl in 2011 and truly blossomed in 2013, Sporting and RSL have squared off multiple times each season across all competitions. The likes of Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales have enriched the rivalry with comments off the field and influential performances on it. And, of course, the clubs have clashed on the brightest stages American soccer has to offer—none bigger than an unforgettable 2013 MLS Cup at Children’s Mercy Park, which ended with Sporting hoisting the trophy.
History suggests the fixture is more or less a toss-up. Although Sporting have won the last two meetings by a 2-0 scoreline, the sides have taken 14 victories and 10 draws apiece in 38 head-to-head encounters across all competitions.