After a grueling but successful playoff run, two of Major League Soccer's best in Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake are all set to square off in the winner-take-all 2013 MLS Cup this weekend.
Kansas City will host the event since they finished with more points during the regular season.
Both clubs have won the MLS Cup once in the past, with Salt Lake hoisting the crown most recently in 2009. Kansas City is playing for its first title since 2004, but looking to win its first since 2000, back when they were still known as the Wizards.
Eastern Conference champions Kansas City has been made the favorite by the oddsmakers (per Bovada), but a strong case can be made for both squads.
With talent across the board, highlighted by stars like Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber, Saturday's championship showdown is sure to feature a number of twists and turns and produce plenty of fireworks.
With kickoff right around the corner, let's get you set with everything you need to know for MLS Cup 2013.
Date: Saturday, December 7, 2013
Start Time: 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. local time)
Where: Sporting Park, Kansas City
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Sporting Kansas City: 51.0 percent
Real Salt Lake: 22.8 percent
Draw: 26.2 percent
*Odds according to Bloomberg Sports. In case of draw, 30 minutes of extra time will be added. If there's no winner after 120-plus minutes, penalty shootout will follow.
Both Sides Preparing for a Physical Matchup
Don't expect these two sides to make any new friends on Saturday afternoon. Instead, anticipate a physical and somewhat chippy championship clash.
After all, Salt Lake have developed a brute reputation, earning the second-most combined yellow and red cards of any MLS club this season (70), per Sporting News. Meanwhile, Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin leads all MLS players with 14 yellow cards this year.
Clearly, neither side will be devoid of toughness on Saturday.
While Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales may have exaggerated the differences between the two clubs, he's well aware of the physicality Kansas City brings to the table, per MLSSoccer.com: "They are a pretty physical team. They play one kind of soccer totally different from us."
With one match to decide it all, it's hard to pick against the home team. And in addition to possessing a crowd advantage, the Eastern Conference representatives are arguably the league's best defensive unit.
Kansas City conceded an MLS-best 30 goals in 34 regular-season games this year and let in just one in two matches against the Houston Dynamo in last month's Eastern Conference Championship. Plus, in their two previous playoff matchups at Sporting Park, Kansas City has outscored its opponents by a combined mark of 5-2.
That's crucial when you consider the fact that Salt Lake has only managed one goal in two earlier playoff matches on the road.
As a result, I'm predicting Kansas City will win a physical, low-scoring match with plenty of yellow cards on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas City 1, Real Salt Lake 0
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