MLS Cup 2013: Breaking Down Why Sporting KC Will Beat Real Salt Lake

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

Dec 5, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielson and midfielder Graham Zusi (right) laugh together during the press conference at Three Points Club. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

While many in Kansas City will likely be tuned in to the SEC Championship on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET—along with the rest of the country—those that do will miss seeing their MLS team, Sporting KC, win the MLS Cup over Real Salt Lake. 

In the great football-versus-footy debate, the former will probably win out on Saturday when Missouri takes on Auburn. But for those who do choose the latter in Kansas City, they'll be treated to a championship performance.

There are plenty of reasons to favor Kansas City in this contest. For one, home-field advantage is in their favor, as Sporting KC will host the final. In their home digs, the club took 30 of a possible 51 points in the MLS regular season and won both playoff legs. 

It's not the MLS' biggest home-field advantage, but it will be important: Of Real Salt Lake's 11 losses between the regular season and playoffs, eight came on the road.  

Nov 9, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (1) signals during the MLS Eastern Conference Championship soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There is also the simple matter of precedent: In their one meeting this year, Sporting KC defeated Real Salt Lake, 2-1, in Salt Lake City, behind goals from Soony Saad and Ike Opara. However, Opara's goal did come seven minutes into second-half stoppage time, so the match was certainly tightly contested.

Kansas City was also the better team in the regular season, though just by two points, as Sporting KC finished with 58 points to Real Salt Lake's 56. And fans of the latter will note that their squad has won three of four playoff legs and lost just once in their past eight matches.

Still, Sporting KC is loaded with talent. There are U.S. internationals Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. Jimmy Nielsen, Aurelien Collin and Uri Rosell have been excellent for the club this season. Chance Myers and CJ Sapong are regular fixtures in the lineup.

Nov 23, 2013; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting KC defender Matt Besler (5) celebrates after the MLS Eastern Conference Championship soccer game against the Houston Dynamo at Sporting Park. Sporting KC won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, these rosters are similar, as both teams shrewdly built through the draft and found excellent bargains in the international market who have turned into major contributors. The difference to be found, then, is where each team thrives on the pitch.

If defense indeed wins championships, it would be prudent to side with the home club. Sporting KC gave up just 30 goals during the regular season, fewest in the league. Of course, a strong defense will be tested against the league's second-best offense, as only the New York Red Bulls (58) scored more goals than Real Salt Lake (57).

Add it all up, and it's easy to see why Sporting KC should be favored, albeit in a match that should be very competitive. They have the home-field advantage, they won the one meeting between the clubs and they boast the stingier defense. 

Expect Kansas City to be crowned MLS champions, even if everyone in the city is watching the SEC Championship instead.


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