MLS is Back - Match Preview - 3ac

Continental Tire Match Preview: Sporting aims to secure knockout round berth in group stage finale vs. Real Salt Lake | July 22, 2020

Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake
MLS is Back Tournament Group Stage | Match 3 of 3
Wednesday, July 22, 2020 | 8 a.m. CT
ESPN Wide World of Sports | Walt Disney World in Florida

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV | ESPN
Spanish TV | ESPN Deportes
English Radio | ESPN 94.5 FM & 1510 AM
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM
Streaming | ESPN app

How to Watch | 5 Things to Know | By The Numbers | Standings
 MatchCenter | Match Notes | Media Guide | Soundbites, B-Roll & Photos

Two Western Conference foes will write the next chapter of their fierce rivalry on Wednesday morning when Sporting Kansas City (3-1-0, 9 points) and Real Salt Lake (1-0-3, 6 points) meet in a pivotal MLS is Back Tournament group stage finale at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World.

The earliest competitive match in Sporting’s 25-year history will kick off at 8 a.m. CT with national coverage on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the ESPN app as well as local radio broadcasts on ESPN 94.5 FM, 1510 AM and La Grande 1340 AM. FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports GO will also provide supplemental coverage of the high-stakes encounter, with Sporting KC Live presented by Michelob Ultra running from 7-8 a.m. CT followed by a 30-minute postgame show beginning at 10 a.m. CT. Additional in-game updates and exclusive offers can be found on the Sporting KC app, available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

Wednesday’s Group D showdown features a pair of teams aiming to seal qualification to the MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage presented by Audi. Sporting, which currently occupies third place in the four-team group with a 1-1-0 record, can secure a Round of 16 birth with a win or a draw. Three points against RSL would see Manager Peter Vermes’ men finish first or second in the group, while a tie would result in a second- or third-place finish. With a result, Sporting will advance as either a top-two finisher in Group D or one of the four best third-place finishers across the six groups. A loss would leave Sporting’s fate in the hands of results outside of Group D.

Group D Points   Overall
1 Real Salt Lake 4 2 1 0 1 2 0 2
2 Minnesota United FC 4 2 1 0 1 2 1 1
3 Sporting Kansas City 3 2 1 1 0 4 4 0
4 Colorado Rapids 0 2 0 2 0 2 5 -3

Tiebreakers: (1) Goal differential, (2) Goals scored, (3) Fewest disciplinary points

After suffering a last-gasp 2-1 loss to Minnesota United FC on July 12, Sporting responded with a wild 3-2 comeback victory over the Colorado Rapids last Friday. Forwards Alan Pulido and Khiry Shelton extended their strong starts to the campaign with second-half strikes before veteran defender Graham Zusi decided the contest in the 91st minute, his deflected effort looping into the back of the net as he became the second player in club history, alongside Preki, to record 100 combined goals (29) and assists (71) in MLS play.

Last week’s win lifted Sporting within a point of Supporters’ Shield leaders Minnesota and Columbus Crew SC as Pulido and Shelton continued to spearhead the team’s attack. The 29-year-old Pulido (3 goals, 2 assists) has become the first player in Sporting history to tally a goal or an assist in his first four regular season appearances for the club, while Shelton has struck in three consecutive games for the first time in his six-year professional career. Vermes’ side ranks second in MLS with 11 goals through four games and boasts a plus-6 goal differential, tied for the second-best mark in the league.

While Sporting’s recent success has been predicated on an in-form attack, RSL has leveraged a stingy defense en route to an unbeaten start. The Utah outfit has conceded just once in four games, tied for the fewest in MLS, and their 257-minute active shutout streak is the longest in the league this season. Goalkeeper Zac MacMath is tied for the MLS lead with three clean sheets, thanks in part to sound backline performances from defenders Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Marcelo Silva and Donny Toia.

Further up the field, RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach has bagged two of RSL’s three goals this season. Corey Baird has yet to find the back of the net in 2020 but has experienced notable success against Sporting, notching four goals in four previous regular season appearances against the club. Elsewhere, 21-year MLS veteran Kyle Beckerman has split midfield playing time with Nick Besler, the younger brother of Sporting captain Matt Besler.

Sporting and RSL share a rich head-to-head history over the last decade, highlighted by an unforgettable meeting in MLS Cup 2013 at Children’s Mercy Park. Sporting prevailed in a 10-round penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw through regulation, landing the first of several blows to RSL in knockout-style competitions. Vermes’ men also ousted the Claret and Cobalt in the two-legged 2018 Western Conference Semifinals as well as the 2015 and 2018 editions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. League results, however, have favored RSL, who own an 8-1-5 record in the last 14 regular season meetings since 2014.

On the injury front, RSL talisman Albert Rusnak is likely to miss Wednesday’s match with a hip injury suffered in Friday’s scoreless draw against Minnesota. The Slovakian is one of four MLS players with at least 25 goals and 25 assists since 2017 and ranks among the league’s most prolific chance creators. Sporting’s only absentees are defender Andreu Fontas—who remains in Kansas City recovering from a quad strain—and midfielder Felipe Gutierrez, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing successful knee surgery last month.