How Sporting KC matches up with Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup Conference Semis

Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City players celebrate a goal by forward Daniel Salloi (20) during the second half of an MLS soccer match against the Austin FC Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Kansas City, Kan. The match ended tied 1-1. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Real Salt Lake swept the regular-season series against Sporting KC.

The last matchup on Decision Day was decided by a stoppage time goal after officials missed a handball that would have resulted in a Sporting penalty kick.

With much history preceding these Western Conference rivals, this matchup is sure to have Children’s Mercy Park full of loud fans on Thanksgiving weekend.

Real Salt Lake comes into Sunday’s match following a 6-5 penalty shootout victory over the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday in which they became the first team in MLS Cup Playoffs history to not record a shot. After 120 scoreless minutes, RSL sank all six of their penalties in the shootout while 20-year-old goalkeeper David Ochoa produced a save on Seattle’s sixth attempt.

Real Salt Lake, led by interim manager Pablo Mastroeni, qualified for the playoffs behind stellar seasons from two playmakers. The midfield duo of Damir Kreilach and club captain Albert Rusnák combined for 47 goal contributions, tied with Dániel Sallói and Johnny Russell for the most by two teammates in MLS this season.

Kreilach led the team in goals with 16 and added nine assists. Rusnák, who did not miss a single start in the regular season but missed RSL’s Round One match in Seattle due to a positive COVID-19 test, had 11 goals and 11 assists. 

Kreilach scored a goal and two assists in the teams’ first matchup in May. He also scored the only goal in their last match.

Forwards Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubín were also active contributors in the attack with eight goals apiece.  

Rubín also scored two goals vs. Sporting in May.

Veteran defender Justen Glad holds the backline for RSL.

Glad, in his ninth season with the club, leads all RSL defenders in matches played, starts and minutes. 

Ochoa is Real Salt Lake’s last line of defense in goal. The Homegrown Player, in his first season as the starting keeper, has made 83 saves and kept five clean sheets.

Sporting is nearly back to full strength after a season of injuries to several key players.

With goal scorers Dániel Sallói and Johnny Russell leading the second-ranked offense in the league, they look to continue their high flying ways after a Round One 3-1 win vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Neither Sallói nor Russell scored in that match which proved how effective the team as a whole is at scoring as well.

Defenders Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Graham Zusi scored two of the three goals against Vancouver with forward Khiry Shelton scoring as well.

Zusi also assisted on Shelton’s goal to become the club leader in postseason assists with seven.

Along with that performance, Roger Espinoza, Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez and Remi Walter assisted Sporting’s efforts in leading MLS in passes attempted (17,698), passes successful (15,131) and passing accuracy (85.5%). The quartet combined for seven goals and 11 assists as well.  

Zusi is one shy of his 20th playoff appearance for Sporting. He would be the fourth Kansas City player to reach that milestone, joining current assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin (23), Nick Garcia (23) and Preki (20).

Zusi is also 110 minutes shy of 30,000 minutes played for Sporting in all competitions. He is the club’s all-time leader in the category with 29,890 minutes in all competitions.

SKC is undefeated this season when scoring multiple goals going 18-0-0.

The winner of this match will play the Portland Timbers.

This match begins at 2 p.m. CT.

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