Preview: Sporting KC to visit Real Salt Lake in monumental Decision Day showdown

Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake
Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017 — 3 p.m. CT
Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, Utah
2017 MLS Regular Season | Game 34 of 34

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV | FOX Sports Kansas City
English TV | FOX Sports Midwest
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM
Mobile | FOX Sports GO, Sporting KC Uphoria

MatchDay Central | Uphoria App | Social Media | By The Numbers
Game Notes | Media Guide | MatchCenter | Videos

The eight-month MLS regular-season marathon sprints to a dramatic close Sunday when Sporting Kansas City (12-8-13, 49 points) visits Real Salt Lake (12-15-6, 42 points) in a monumental showdown rife with playoff implications.

The renewed rivalry — one of MLS 11 matches set to kickoff simultaneously at 3 p.m. CT on Decision Day — will be televised live on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest, with three hours of coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. CT. A live stream will also be available via FOX Sports GO, while the Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide live updates of all Decision Day developments. Listeners can tune into La Grande 1340 AM for a live Spanish radio broadcast.

All Sporting KC supporters are invited to attend the official watch party for Sunday’s game at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.). Watch party specials include $6 Till Vodka cocktails and an all-you-can-eat hamburger and hot dog buffet with bottomless domestic draft beer or soda.

With a club-record seventh consecutive playoff berth already clinched, Sporting Kansas City can still finish anywhere between second place and fifth place in the Western Conference depending on Sunday’s results. A victory would guarantee Manager Peter Vermes’ men a top-four finish and a home playoff game for the first time since hosting the 2013 MLS Cup. Anything less than three points, however, and Sporting KC runs the risk of being leapfrogged by the fifth-place Houston Dynamo, who sit two points lower in the standings but would own the head-to-head tiebreaker should they beat the Chicago Fire at home in their regular-season finale.

Real Salt Lake faces a far more desperate prospect, knowing a loss — and most likely a draw — would eliminate the Claret and Cobalt from postseason contention. Head coach Mike Petke’s side currently sits eighth in the West, a point below the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas. In order to snag the sixth and final playoff berth, RSL must win and have both San Jose and FC Dallas drop points in their home games against Minnesota United FC and LA Galaxy, respectively. The Utah club would also punch its postseason ticket with a draw if San Jose and FC Dallas both lose.

The current campaign has seen Sporting Kansas City lift another trophy — the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title is the club’s fourth major championship since 2012 — but a primary objective for the team since the start of the season was to host a playoff game at Children’s Mercy Park. That goal still lies within reach, although it might require Sporting KC to snap a four-game winless run at Rio Tinto Stadium dating back to 2015.

Vermes’ side is coming off a scoreless home draw Sunday against Houston, a result that allowed the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC to move ahead of Sporting KC in the Western Conference table with wins that same night. Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric turned in a brilliant performance to deny the hosts what would have been a valuable victory, making nine saves as Houston survived Sporting KC’s 27-shot deluge over the course of 90 minutes.

Real Salt Lake entered last weekend as one of the league’s hottest teams, rebounding from a 5-12-2 start with seven wins and four draws from their next 13 fixtures, but suffered a devastating 1-0 setback at the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. Despite enjoying 72 percent possession and outshooting their Rocky Mountain rivals 30-2, a third-minute goal from Josh Gatt and seven saves from Tim Howard gave Colorado the unlikely triumph.

Sunday’s disappointment won’t change the fact that Real Salt Lake has enjoyed a great second half of the 2017 campaign. The Claret and Cobalt have been particularly rampant on home turf, winning four straight games at Rio Tinto Stadium while outscoring opponents 12-2. Midfield talisman Albert Rusnak ranks second in MLS with 97 chances created, and his seven goals and 13 assists are both team-bests. Diminutive winger Joao Plata is the only MLS player to rank in the top six in both chances created (79) and shots (95), while young forwards Jefferson Savarino and Luis Silva have combined for 12 goals since the start of July.

As potent as RSL’s attack has been at home, Sporting KC boasts a backline that stacks up among the best in MLS history. The club has conceded just 27 goals through 33 matches, and a shutout on Sunday would tie an MLS record for fewest goals conceded in a 34-game regular season. Center backs Matt Besler and Ike Opara are bona fide MLS Defender of the Year candidates, while right back Graham Zusi’s 56 chances created are three shy of the league’s single-season record among defenders. Left back Seth Sinovic, meanwhile, has started all but two MLS matches in 2017.

Another key contributor to Sporting KC’s stingy defensive record is goalkeeper Tim Melia, who will miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury. Andrew Dykstra has served as Melia’s replacement in the previous two fixtures, notably earning a shutout Sunday against the Dynamo.

The all-time regular season series between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake is dead even through 25 games, with both teams owning nine wins and seven draws. The sides most recently met on July 22 in Utah, settling for a 1-1 draw as Silva and Benny Feilhaber traded goals. Sporting KC won the first meeting of 2017 by a 3-0 scoreline on April 29 at Children's Mercy Park, using goals from Feilhaber and Gerso to snap a seven-game regular season winless skid against RSL.

Playoff Scenarios

How Sporting KC can finish second in the West (knockout round bye)

  • Win at Real Salt Lake, AND
  • Portland loses or ties vs. Vancouver, AND
  • Seattle loses or ties vs. Colorado

How Sporting KC can finish third in the West (host SJ, FCD or RSL in knockout round)

  • Win at Real Salt Lake, AND
  • Only one of Portland or Seattle drops points to Vancouver or Colorado, respectively

How Sporting KC can finish fourth in the West (host Houston in knockout round)

  • Win at Real Salt Lake, AND Portland and Seattle both win vs. Vancouver and Colorado, respectively, OR
  • Tie at Real Salt Lake, AND Houston Dynamo loses or ties vs. Chicago Fire, OR
  • Lose at Real Salt Lake, AND Houston Dynamo loses or ties vs. Chicago Fire

How Sporting KC can finish fifth in the West (visit Houston or Seattle in knockout round)

  • Tie at Real Salt Lake, AND Houston wins vs. Chicago, OR
  • Lose at Real Salt Lake, AND Houston wins vs. Chicago

How Real Salt Lake can claim the six-seed in the West

  • Win vs. Sporting KC, AND San Jose loses or ties vs. Minnesota, AND FC Dallas loses or ties vs. LA, OR
  • Tie vs. Sporting KC, AND San Jose loses vs. Minnesota, AND FC Dallas loses vs. LA