Entering the final round of the Group Stage, both Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC look to secure their spot in the Round of 16 on Wednesday morning. Here are three things to watch for.
Both Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City enter Wednesday morning’s tilt with hopes of securing their place in the knockout stages. RSL are coming from an uneventful draw with Minnesota United, putting them in first place of Group D on four points. Sporting KC, meanwhile, squeezed past the Colorado Rapids. They have three points but will finish first if they win and Minnesota fail to beat Colorado.
The pair have met 30 times in the regular season. RSL have 13 wins to SKC’s nine, while there have been eight draws. RSL have lost just once since 2016 in the regular season, though Sporting KC won in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup and the 2018 Conference semi-final.
For Real Salt Lake to secure a spot in the Round of 16, all they have to do is draw. Even a loss leaves them with hope for a top-four third-place finish. For Sporting, it is a little more complicated. A win gets them into the Round of 16 with at least a top-two finish, but a draw would require a bit of help from elsewhere.
Here are three things to watch for ahead of Wednesday’s clash.
3. Rivalry reincarnated
While many believe the rivalry between Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC started with the 2013 MLS Cup Final, things actually heated up when the two teams got into a preseason brawl. The plot thickened after Ike Opara stole all three points at Rio Tinto Stadium with a match-winning header six minutes into stoppage time in July 2013. Benny Feilhaber added fuel to the fire throughout the years with his comments and fiery play. Kyle Beckerman was a similar figure on RSL’s side.
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Wednesday’s match won’t feature two essential players that have guided their teams for the better part of a decade with the retirement of both Nick Rimando and Benny Feilhaber. Daniel Salloi has made a case for himself to fill the vacant shoes with a premature celebration as he scored to knock RSL out of the playoffs in 2018, as well as getting both of his red cards against Real Salt Lake.
There is also the lack of supporters in the stands. How will this impact the atmosphere on the pitch? Despite this, both teams are chasing a spot in the next round of the MLS is Back Tournament along with three points in the regular-season standings. That should be enough to inspire a competitive affair.