KANSAS CITY, KS - AUGUST 03: Kei Kamara #23 of Sporting Kansas City battles Nat Borchers #6 and Chris Wingert #17 of Real Salt Lake for a head ball during the game on August 3, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
In a battle of the top two teams in MLS, Sporting KC looks to claim the top spot for itself and further distance itself in the Eastern Conference.
There isn't much between the two teams at this moment. It could be a match that is settled on a fluke, or it could be the moment that either team steps forward to take the mantel as early season frontrunner for the Supporter's Shield. When the best two teams take the field, we can do our best to guess the outcome, but more often than not everything you knew 90 minutes before is falsified. Here are some keys to the match:
Passing vs. Pressing
Each team likes to dominate possession, but go about it two different ways. Real Salt Lake plays a 4-4-2 system that relies on solid passing to maintain the possession advantage. The two downsides to this to exploit are simple. First, passes don't go into the nets. In the Chivas USA loss, RSL dominated possession but failed to get many chances because of last ditch defending. Sporting has a much more solid defense than Chivas USA, so the chances shouldn't be coming quick here either. The second downside is that a team that presses them can't disrupt their rhythm.
For Sporting Kansas City, their pressing is the key to maintaining high possession rates. Expect Espinoza and Zusi to close quickly on Beckerman whenever he gets the ball and try to force Real Salt Lake into playing long balls which plays to Sporting KC's defensive strength.
Definitive Advantage on Dead Balls
For Sporting, the separation needed may come from Graham Zusi and Bobby Convey's free kicks and Matt Besler's throws. In this game don't just watch for how many times these situations lead to Sporting getting a shot out of it, but take notice of how many extra set pieces they earn. Almost every throw by Besler either results in an attempt or is headed away for a corner, which gives Sporting KC an extra chance to score outside the run of play. Real Salt Lake has no comparable weapons, and also struggle with free kicks against them.
No Javier Morales, More Luis Gil
Javier Morales appears to be out with a hamstring strain, so expect Luis Gil to go again in midfield for Real Salt Lake. With the diamond midfield, the weight of creating offense rests upon Gil and the match-up between him and Julio Cesar is where the game's fate lies. Julio Cesar was fantastic last week and if he repeats that performance, then the former Kansas City draft pick will be hard pressed to find the impetus to drive his team to victory.
Same as always until it fails.
Nielsen, Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Julio Cesar, Zusi, Espinoza, Kamara, Convey, Sapong
1-1 draw. There isn't much between these teams right now, and I doubt anything will be proven here. RSL is as good a road team as home this year, so any bump given by playing at Livestrong is something the fans can be proud of.