Sporting Kansas City wraps up their stretch of three road matches in eight days with a visit to rivals Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday, July 17. Kickoff for the contest is at 8:30 p.m. CT and can be found on 38 The Spot, in the Sporting KC Mobile app or online at SportingKC.com.
After suffering two defeats to RSL a season ago, Sporting bested the Claret and Cobalt at Children’s Mercy Park on March 26. Johnny Russell’s heroics late in the match lifted the hosts past the visitors 1-0 in a thrilling early-season showdown. Sporting will look to replicate that success Sunday night in Salt Lake.
Below are five storylines to keep an eye on as another chapter is written in the lengthy story of Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake.
As stated earlier, Sporting will conclude a three-match road trip on Sunday against Real Salt Lake. In the two previous road matches, Sporting came from behind to beat CF Montreal and fought back to earn a draw against Minnesota United. Last Saturday in Montreal, Roger Espinoza’s 45-yard chip in the first half evened the score at one before Remi Walter scored the game-winner in the 63rd. Espinoza’s wondergoal earned AT&T Goal of the Week honors after winning a Twitter Poll voted on by Major League Soccer fans.
Wednesday night, Sporting faced Minnesota United for the first time in 2022, resuming their rivalry. Sporting KC came out firing putting the Loons’ defense under fire for most of the first half. After some unfortunate luck for Sporting led to an own goal, Johnny Russell came off the bench early in the second half looking to give Sporting’s offense that final touch. The captain did so with a stroke of brilliance to level the match. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and John Pulskamp kept the score nodded at one for the remainder of the match allowing Sporting to capture their second straight road result and fourth result in five matches away from home.
RSL rivalry reunion at Rio Tinto
Sunday will be the second meeting between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake in 2022, and the 36th MLS regular season showdown. RSL holds a slim lead in the records winning 15 meetings to Sporting’s 12. When the two sides met earlier in the campaign, the duel looked destined for a draw, until Wednesday’s hero rose to the occasion yet again. Russell dribbled through the RSL backline, regained possession and slotted a shot into the back of the net in the 81st minute to hand Salt Lake their first loss in 2022.
It always means more when these two take the field against one another. Sporting will always hold the 2013 MLS Cup over RSL. Sporting famously defeated Salt Lake in the 10th round of a penalty shootout in front of the Blue Hell to lift the club’s second MLS Cup title. Sporting is also still looking to avenge last season’s loss in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Team of the week(s)
Sporting’s road results have not gone unnoticed around the league. After the win in Montreal, Espinoza received a nod to the Team of the Week presented by Audi. Espinoza's appearance on the Team of the Week bench was not the only accolade he earned with his marvelous goal being named AT&T Goal of the Week.
It was announced following Wednesday’s draw that two Sporting KC players were selected to the MLS Team of the Week presented by Audi. Russell earned a spot on the bench while Isimat-Mirin was one of three defenders to receive the honor as a starter. Isimat-Mirin became the first Western Conference player in over a year to record three interceptions, five clearances and 10 duels won in a regular season match on the road.
The match in Minnesota was a historical one for Sporting right from the jump. Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes trotted out five homegrown players in the starting XI for the first time in the club’s lengthy history. Pulskamp started in goal, Kayden Pierre played on the backline, Felipe Hernandez manned the middle, Cam Duke played out wide and Daniel Salloi slid into the number nine role.
Pulskamp came up humongous in the clutch, making two immaculate saves in the final moments of the match to keep Sporting level. Pierre picked up his first MLS assist, helping Russell tie the match. Hernandez and Duke, who lead Sporting in assists with three apiece, continued their energetic, tenacious style of play that has been on display this season and Salloi nearly found the back of the net on multiple occasions continuously asking questions of Minnesota’s backline.
Salt Lake’s balanced offense
Looking at Sunday’s opponent, Real Salt Lake, they come into the match having suffered a 2-1 setback to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday night. The Claret and Cobalt have enjoyed success in 2022, earning 30 points in 20 matches so far, good enough for fourth place in the West. They are undefeated at Rio Tinto Stadium, boasting a 6-0-3 record in Salt Lake City.
There has not been one specific game changer on Salt Lake’s roster this season. Five players have scored three goals on and 13 different players have scored at one point in MLS play. Forward Sergio Cordova is one of their members with five goals and leads RSL in shots with 35. He has not scored since May 28. Sporting KC will look to hand Salt Lake their first home loss of the season, the same way they gave them their first loss in 2022 back in March.