Kansas City, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of traditional MLS heavyweights will meet at Sporting Park on Saturday as Sporting Kansas City prepares to play host to Real Salt Lake.
The two clubs have been model MLS success stories, ignoring the perceived small-market stigmas to claim postseason glory; Real Salt Lake captured its lone MLS Cup title in 2009 while Sporting defeated the Claret and Cobalt in the title match in 2013.
This season has seen both clubs start slow out of gate only to pick up steam in recent weeks.
Real Salt Lake narrowly claimed three points last time, riding a spectacular finish from Javier Morales for a 1-0 defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes.
"I thought it was probably our best performance all year," RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said. "The commitment from the guys on the defensive end was off the charts. It was something we stressed all week long that we think our defensive intensity is going to lead to offensive chances. I think on a different night we probably could have scored some more goals too, but the commitment defensively, the space that we limited them to was unbelievable."
While Morales' wonderstrike garnered the majority of the headlines, it was his commitment to work back that had Cassar buzzing.
"He's playing at an extremely high level right now and I think his confidence is very high and we're going to talk a lot about that goal, but I'm going to think about the defensive play that he made in the second half," Cassar said. "That was unbelievable. ... That's what really holds dear to my heart because that's the kind of thing that other people watch and see and it rallies them."
Sporting will be out to contain Salt Lake, a daunting proposition given how porous the club's defense has looked at times this season.
While Kansas City has kept two clean sheets through five games, the club also has leaked six goals, including three in a 3-1 loss to FC Dallas and two in its dramatic 3-2 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.
Approaching stoppage time and trailing by a goal, Sporting nearly fell into a further hole, but the Union failed to convert on a breakway. Kansas City took advantage by scoring two late goals to claim the win.
According to head coach Peter Vermes, the result was never in question.
"I was never looking at a 2-1 loss," Vermes said. "I was always looking at a 3-2 win. I don't think about that while the game is going on. I really felt that we would get at least a goal at some point. I felt that we should have had more than six minutes of injury time. At the end we went out 3-2. It is a good game for us in a lot of respects. The biggest thing for me is the fact that guys believed in each other and did a lot of things, and at the end of the game you sort of have to "add lib," and we were pretty smart. I thought we were very smart in the second half."