By now you’ve undoubtedly heard the tired story line for the MLS Cup tomorrow afternoon at Sporting Park…
It was manufactured by the media who just had to point out that back in 2011 these teams got into a scuffle during a joint training session in Arizona. It goes like this:
–Sporting KC are a bunch of thugs, they’ve fouled more than any other team in MLS this season and have the top two yellow card accumulators (Uri, Collin)
–Real Salt Lake play “real” soccer, with skill and finesse
-These two teams hate each other, ever since that pre-season game in 2011
-MLS Cup will be a clash of two opposite styles of play, blah blah blah
Pretty predictable stuff, I suppose.
As was the backlash to said contrived storyline. After nearly every media outlet touted the brawn v. brains angle, the whole narrative flipped on itself and writers began penning lines like:
-“Media coverage in the run-up to Saturday’s Major League Soccer Cup final has focused on the supposed disparity in both teams’ styles of play, when the true differentiator between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake was the kind of season each team was supposed to have.” – Steve Vockrodt, the Pitch.
Not sure what that really means.
-“If you were to ask a neutral listening to hype around the league about the style of play Sporting Kansas City deploy as compared to Real Salt Lake’s, you’ll surely get a list of things that are pretty routine: RSL is a better attacking side, SKC is high pressure, SKC is a heavy-fouling, hard-tackling side — and so on. But as with most hype machines, there’s a modicum of truth and a whole lot of something else.” –Matt Montgomery of RSLSoapbox.com.
Weird, right? I guess we all need some kind of an angle.
Now here’s mine:
Most odds-makers have Sporting at about a 1/2 point favorite, with most money lines sitting around (-110) for KC and (+280) for RSL.
I mean, how could you not take Sporting in this matchup? They play at home. They’re probably a bit more acclimated to the frigid weather that’s forecast for Saturday, which I think could be a factor. They beat RSL at their place earlier this season in the two clubs’ only meeting – granted, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Nick Rimando, and Kyle Beckerman were all out for USMNT duty. They have Dom Dwyer, who is in fine form at the moment, bulldogging defenses up front.
And of course, there’s the fans, some of the best in the league:
“I’ve had players on this team tell me they’ve never experienced the emotion they have when Sporting Park is in full voice; players that have played in some of the greatest stadia of the world,” wrote Sporting head honcho Robb Heinemann in an open letter to KC. “So this is your chance to finish what we all started with a championship for this City, for this Club, for all of us.”
Stadia? Damn, that’s smooth.
What KC really needs is for Paulo Nagamura to continue his recent form, freeing up Benny Feilhaber to roam confidently in the midfield, and combine with Graham Zusi to stretch the defense’s back line just enough to slip a ball through.
I know, I know.
Saying that the key to the game is to win the midfield is not exactly novel stuff.
But if you’ve been paying attention to Sporting all year, you can see how Sporting’s form changed with the return of Nags.
Whatever happens on Saturday, there’s no doubt that this season has seen Sporting KC take the biggest leap forward yet. They hosted the All-Star game and the Cup, and tickets for the Final sold out in 24 minutes. There are waiting lists for season tickets for next year. Yes, it’s good to be Sporting right now.
“It’s the greatest fan turnaround in the history of sports,” claims Heinemann. “Someone disagree? If you can show me another example where crowds of 2,000 became 24-minute 22,000 person sell-outs, I’m all ears.”