Build KCI Match Preview: Sporting to battle for West's No. 1 seed in pivotal Decision Day clash at RSL on Sunday

Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake
2020 MLS Regular Season | Match 21
Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020 | 5:30 p.m. CT
Rio Tinto Stadium | Sandy, Utah

Broadcast Schedule:
English TV
| FOX Sports Midwest
Streaming | FOX Sports GO or ESPN Plus
English Radio | ESPN 94.5 FM
Spanish Radio | La Grande 1340 AM

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Sporting Kansas City (11-6-3, 36 points) will play for a No. 1 seed in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday when the club ventures west to face rivals Real Salt Lake (5-9-7, 22 points) in a pivotal regular season finale as part of MLS Decision Day 2020 presented by AT&T.

Sunday’s showdown at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, is slated for 5:30 p.m. CT with three hours of live programming on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO. The game will also air locally on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM, while viewers outside of the FOX Sports Midwest footprint can stream the action on ESPN Plus.

MLS Decision Day 2020 presented by AT&T will see all 26 clubs close the curtains on an unprecedented campaign that began over eight months ago on Feb. 29. Sporting Kansas City currently occupies first place in the West based on points per game, the all-important metric that will decide seeding for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

With 36 points from 20 matches, Sporting sits on 1.8 points per game and can clinch first place in the West with a win on Sunday. Manager Peter Vermes’ men can also finish atop the standings regardless of their result if the second-place Portland Timbers and third-place Seattle Sounders FC both fail to win their games against LAFC and San Jose Earthquakes, respectively. Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, have already been eliminated from playoff contention and will therefore embrace the spoiler role this weekend.

Sporting will enter Sunday on plenty of rest, having played most recently on Oct. 28 in a 1-0 road triumph against FC Cincinnati. Last weekend’s regular season home finale versus Minnesota United FC was cancelled due to two positive COVID-19 cases within the Minnesota team. On the opposite sideline, Real Salt Lake took a 2-1 away loss to the LA Galaxy on Sunday—a result that officially dropped head coach Freddy Juarez’s side from the playoff picture.

No team had more wins (five) or points (16) during the month of October than Sporting, which claimed five regular season victories in a single month for the first time since April 2000. The likes of Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda, Johnny Russell and Erik Hurtado all played major roles in attack, while backline depth was also on display with solid performances from Andreu Fontas, Jaylin Lindsey, Amadou Dia, Winston Reid and Roberto Puncec, who has gone the full 90 minutes in all six shutout efforts this season. Between the posts, goalkeeper Tim Melia has posted three shutouts during a 5-1-1 stretch that began on Oct. 3.

Vermes confirmed in a press conference on Friday that Pulido—who has tabbed six goals and five assists during an excellent debut campaign—is week-to-week with a knee injury. However, Sporting boasts one of the deepest and most balanced attacks in the league, as it is one of just three clubs to have five players with four or more goals this season. This approach has helped Sporting make a remarkable jump in 2020 after the club finished 11th in the West last year and missed the postseason for the first time since 2010.

After collecting 10 wins during a 34-game regular season in 2019, Sporting has eclipsed that total with 11 wins in 20 matches this year. Vermes has notably become the first head coach in MLS history to lead a single club to the playoffs nine times. He has led Kansas City to three previous first-place conference finishes in 2011, 2012 and 2018.

RSL are 1-5-1 in their last seven games dating back to the start of October and will be without chief playmaker Albert Rusnak on Sunday after he was permitted to join Slovakia for a crucial European Championship qualifier against Ireland. Juarez figures to lean heavily on the likes of Damir Kreilach (eight goals) and veteran center back Nedum Onuoha as well as a talented homegrown contingent that includes Justen Glad, Donny Toia, Aaron Herrera and Corey Baird.

Sporting and RSL have developed a colorful rivalry over the last decade, squaring off in a number of high-stakes encounters. MLS Cup 2013 notably saw Sporting defeat RSL on penalty kicks at Children’s Mercy Park, but Vermes’ team also ousted RSL in the 2018 Western Conference Semifinals as well as the 2015 and 2018 editions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Despite their superiority in the most important fixtures between the clubs, Sporting has struggled in recent regular season meetings. RSL are 8-2-5 in the regular season series since 2014, although the most recent battle did see Sporting prevail by a 2-0 scoreline thanks to goals from Russell and Gerso Fernandes on July 22 at the MLS is Back Tournament in Walt Disney World. Sporting are 0-5-2 in their last seven regular season trips to Rio Tinto Stadium and haven’t claimed a league win at the venue since July 2013.

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