The MLS Cup has officially come down to two teams with vastly different approaches to the game. One relies on smothering opponents defensively, while the other was one of the top scoring teams in the league.
But while both have played their game well as of late, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake contest is eerily similar to a battle of David vs. Goliath. This time, instead of wielding a slingshot, Real Salt Lake will need to find a way just to get by the Sporting KC backfield to simply find scoring opportunities.
Sporting KC's suffocating defense
Coming into the season, Sporting Kansas City had a target on their backs after giving up the fewest goals in the league in 2012. In 2013, the club did the exact same thing, allowing the fewest goals in back-to-back seasons.
Much of that success is thanks in large part to Matt Besler, one of the best defenders for the United States Men's National Team this season as well. When asked about the feat, Besler told Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star:
The goal I set for myself was to have the best defense in the league. Last year we gave up the fewest goals, and I knew we had the chance to do that again this year. … For us to give up the fewest goals two years running, that was the achievement I was looking forward to the most and the one I’m most proud of.
Along with Besler, Sporting KC also has one of the best goalkeepers in the MLS in Jimmy Nielsen. The 36-year-old finished the season with 68 saves, just six off from the 74 saves he registered a season ago.
After being named the 2012 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI selection, Nielsen has become the MLS all-time leader in goals against average with more than 100 MLS matches played for the Sporting KC.
The only way the club's defense could get any better is if they added a certain fan from the Kansas City Chiefs by the name of Dontari Poe:
More-than-capable front line
While Real Salt Lake will come in with the second-best scoring offense in the 58 points, Sporting KC always finds a way to eek out wins. Against the L.A. Galaxy, Real Salt Lake was able to score just two goals during the two-match playoff and was held scoreless in the final match.
For Sporting KC, the numbers have been there like they have for Real Salt Lake, but it's not from a lack of talent. The club will need a good showing from forwards C.J. Sapong and Claudio Bieler along with two other members of the U.S. Men's National Team in midfielders Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber.
If these four combined stars can help maintain possession for Sporting KC, it should be a fairly easy MLS Cup. Lest we never forget, Sapong is also a very skilled poet who nearly wooed Hope Solo a few years ago:
With a defense that has allowed more than one goal throughout the playoffs just once and an offense that can attack at any point, Sporting Kansas City should defeat Real Salt Lake to take home their second MLS Cup in five years.