MLS Cup Final Complete Preview
The 2013 Major League Soccer season will come to an end on Saturday afternoon with an appetizing matchup between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at the 2013 MLS Cup final.
The two small-market teams have shown plenty of resolve throughout the season and they feature two of the best managers in America - Jason Kreis and Peter Vermes.
Sporting will play host to the Claret and Cobalt at Sporting Park due to a better regular season points total.
The match, which will be televised on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET, has plenty of intriguing storylines and will display some of the best American talent out there.
Continue reading for a complete preview of the 2013 MLS Cup final.
*All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.
Sporting Park is quickly becoming one of, if not the, best soccer venues in the United States.
Located in Kansas City, Kansas it has a capacity of nearly 18,500 for soccer matches, and it has become one of the main stadiums to host the United States men's national team.
During the most recent CONCACAF World Cup qualifying cycle, the USMNT visited Sporting Park twice.
The first match against Guatemala on October 16, 2012 secured the United States' berth in the hexagonal round.
When the Hex wrapped up back in October, USA used Sporting Park as their final home venue as they took down Jamaica 2-0 to solidify a perfect home qualifying record.
Sporting Park has also hosted CONCACAF Gold Cup matches and one United States women's national team match.
How They Got Here: Sporting Kansas City
Regular Season Finish: Second in Eastern Conference (58 Points)
Playoff Results: Win over New England in Conference semi-finals, 4-3 on aggregate; Win over Houston in Conference final, 2-1 on aggregate.
Sporting Kansas City started their road to MLS Cup with a 2-1 loss at the hands of the New England Revolution in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Vermes' side responded well to the adversity they faced in the second leg as they powered back from a goal behind in front of their home crowd and advanced to the next stage, 4-3 on aggregate.
In the two-legged Eastern Conference final, it was Dom Dwyer who scored the winning goal of the tie in the 63rd minute of the second leg against the Dynamo.
Before Dwyer won the match at home, C.J. Sapong scored an equaliser in the 14th minute of the second leg.
How They Got Here: Real Salt Lake
Regular Season Finish: Second in Western Conference (56 Points)
Playoff Results: Win over Los Angeles in Conference semi-finals, 2-1 on aggregate. Win over Portland in Conference final, 5-2 on aggregate.
Real Salt Lake's excursion to MLS Cup began with a star-studded Western Conference semi-final tie against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Chris Schuler played the role of hero for the Claret and Cobalt in the 102nd minute of the second leg to advance the team on to the Western Conference final against Portland.
In the conference final, RSL stormed past the Timbers on a 5-2 aggregate over two legs, which was clinched by a 4-1 win in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Last Time They Met
Date: July 20
Result: Sporting Kansas City 2, Real Salt Lake 1.
The lone regular-season meeting between the two MLS Cup finalists was one of the most talked about matches of 2013.
The two collided at Rio Tinto Stadium in a physical affair that saw the visitors snatch a full three points away at the death.
Sporting defender Ike Opara scored a header in the 97th minute to pull Sporting ahead just before the final whistle.
Robbie Findley was the only scorer for RSL, while Soony Saad notched a goal for Sporting in a match that saw six different players booked, including RSL's Chris Wingert, who was sent off for a second yellow in the 66th minute.
Players to Watch: Sporting Kansas City
At 27 years old, Graham Zusi is one of the most integral parts to his club and international sides.
The United States international had a breakout 2012 season for Sporting with five goals and 15 assists, and he has followed that campaign up with six goals and eight assists in 27 matches this season.
There are not many players in MLS tougher than Sporting centre-back Aurelien Collin.
The two-time MLS All-Star is a powerful force in the Sporting back line and he has the potential to change a game at both ends of the pitch.
At the defensive end, Collin can nullify the most powerful attacker on any team while at the offensive end, he is a force to be reckoned with on set pieces.
During his career, Benny Feilhaber has been a player that has always had a flair for the dramatic on the biggest stage.
The scorer of the game-winning goal at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, he brings an experienced game to the pitch as he has played all across Europe with spells in Germany, England and Denmark.
Players to Watch: Real Salt Lake
In goal, Nick Rimando is the heart and soul of the Real Salt Lake team.
Rimando is one of the toughest keepers to beat in MLS and he has consistently earned a spot on the United States roster behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan in the last year.
The longest tenured player on the RSL roster is also an expert at saving penalties, a skill that could end up determining the final result.
When watching Kyle Beckerman play, you come for the spectacular hair and stay for his grit and determination in the midfield.
The United States international is the fulcrum of the RSL midfield as he is able to start a strong attack with his excellent tackling prowess.
With the speedy Sporting attack coming at him from all directions on Saturday, Beckerman will have to be on his game to deny his opponents the chance to breach the Claret and Cobalt back four.
What Beckerman does for the defensive part of the midfield, Javier Morales does for the attacking aspect of the position.
The Argentinian scored eight goals and recorded 10 assists in 28 matches this season after starting the campaign on the bench while recovering from a torn meniscus.
Key Matchups to Watch
Oriol Rosell (SKC) vs. Kyle Beckerman (RSL)
MLS Cup will be won in the midfield and both clubs possess a powerful central force at the position.
Oriol Rosell lines up as the central midfielder in a 4-3-3 for Vermes' Sporting while Beckerman is a defensive midfielder in Kreis' 4-1-3-2 system.
Both players will look to attain a ton of possession in the midfield to kickstart an attack, and whoever does that the best could easily be lifting the MLS Cup.
Jimmy Nielsen (SKC) vs. Nick Rimando (RSL)
If you enjoy spectacular goalkeeping, this is your match to sit back and enjoy with a bucket full of popcorn.
Rimando and Jimmy Nielsen are arguably the two best keepers in the league, and they are both capable of pitching a shutout and sending this match into extra time.
If the match does end up reaching extra time, and eventually penalties, both of these proud keepers will put on a goalkeeping display that will leave you in awe.
MLS Cup History
Sporting Kansas City: 2 appearances, 1 title (2000)
Real Salt Lake: 1 appearance, 1 title (2009)
The last time either side was playing in MLS Cup, the year was 2009 and Real Salt Lake won in the most dramatic fashion, on penalties, against the Los Angeles Galaxy on a neutral field in Seattle.
It has been close to a decade since the Kansas City franchise reached this level of the playoffs and almost 14 years since they have won a title.
Back when they were known as the Kansas City Wizards, the franchise won MLS Cup in 2000 behind an 11th-minute goal from Miklos Molnar to defeat the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 1, Real Salt Lake 0 (After Extra Time)
This matchup is one of the best that MLS could have hoped for as it pits two of its strongest teams against each other.
Finding a goal in regulation will be a difficult task with Nielsen and Rimando manning the space in between the posts.
As the match enters extra time, Sporting will get an extra boost from their home support and find the back of the net to win their second MLS Cup in franchise history.
Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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