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MLS Cup 2013: Real Salt Lake’s key players for Saturday’s final

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KANSAS CITY – Key players is a tough topic when discussing Real Salt Lake, where the system was always designed to focus on the team concept, to create a salary structure more inclined to balance rather than some two-tiered system of big disparity.

In other words, they want a bunch of little stars in their galaxy rather than a couple of breathtakingly big ones.

Still, some figures are more important than others. Let’s take a quick look:

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando: At 34, there is pretty much nothing the UCLA man hasn’t seen from his vantage point between the MLS posts.

Rimando just completed his 14th season in MLS, having started at such a young age for a wonderfully talented Miami Fusion team back in 2000. All these years of experience, and still with the ability to make the big stop, is what makes Rimando a perennial league Goalkeeper of the Year candidate. He’s also No. 3 on Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team ordering, almost certain to be the third ‘keeper on next year’s World Cup roster.

All those years of know-how makes Rimando the perfect figure to organize and orchestrate his back line. Finally, he’s the league’s top goalkeeper with his feet, which always gives defenders one additional option when in trouble and facing their own goal.

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman: Beckerman has been the rarer soccer bird, having established himself as a frequently enlisted international later in his career. Klinsmann has relied on this tough performer, with his ultimate positional discipline, as his second- or third-choice holding midfielder over the last two years.

Around MLS, Beckerman (pictured above, on the right) is top 1 or 2 at the position, with enough offensive ability and long-range shooting prowess to be a threat as the fifth or sixth man into RSL’s attack. Beckerman sits at the bottom of RSL’s diamond-shaped midfield set-up.

Midfielder Javier Morales: This year has seen a late career re-birth for Morales, who missed most of 2011 due to injury and then never quite gained full speed in 2012, still playing catch-up on the recovery.

Never mind that he’s 33 years old, his numbers were strong in this sensational year (8 goals and 10 assists). More than that, Morales saved plenty for the end; he has been one of the most effective performers for any MLS team in the 2013 post-season, tight in possession and sharp of eye in spotting and releasing speedy forward Robbie Findley into good positions.

“He’s the guy who unlocks everything for us up top,” RSL center back Nat Borchers said of Morales. “He has carried us through the playoffs, creating chances, and making sure the tempo is right for us, whether we cut ball back or keep it going forward.”

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

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Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

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Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

Sporting Kansas City’s key players

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MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

MLS Cup positional edges: Forwards

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’

Simeone on Atleti’s achievement: We showed the work of three years

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Head coach Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico de Madrid gives instructions during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Betis Balompie at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid are headed to their second Champions League final in three seasons.

Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to lead Atleti past Bayern Munich in the semis as they must now await their opponent in the final, either Manchester City or Real Madrid.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

Atleti lost the 2014 final to Real Madrid, but they currently look the strongest side in Europe with a leader in Diego Simeone who has risen up the ranks of the game’s elite managers.

Speaking after Tuesday’s match, Simeone said the performance his side put in against Bayern Munich was thanks to the work they have put in over the past few seasons.

Very emotional. It was a very good first half by Bayern, they’re a great team. The missed penalty gave us life.

We had to change a bit from the first leg in terms of how we played and we showed our strengths as a team. The penalty miss by Torres hurt us but in the end it was like a movie, thrilling, with five minutes extra time.

I’m proud of what has happened to this club. We are beating the best teams in the world. Over the course of 180 minutes we showed the work of three years.

I hope that destiny will eventually help us in the final. It doesn’t matter who we play.

Barcelona and Bayern Munich entered the Champions League as favorites to lift the trophy in Milan, but both of those sides failed to get past Simeone’s Atletico.

[ REPORTS: Man City to trigger $60 million Aymeric Laporte release clause ]

Simeone’s name has been linked with the Premier League and other top clubs in Europe, but is there a reason for him to leave Madrid? Atleti’s two legs against Bayern truly did show the work of three years, as the manager has stuck to his guns and built the team around his values as a manager. They may not have been mentioned in the elite tier of clubs in the past, but Simeone has proven they should be now.

Has Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich been a failure?

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 17:  Head coach Pep Guardiola of Bayern looks on during the a press conference at National Stadium in day 1 of the FC Bayern Audi China Summer Pre-Season Tour on July 17, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola could have seven trophies from his three seasons at Bayern Munich when he leaves the club this summer.

Guardiola has won two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup since taking over the Bavarian club in 2013. Bayern are in line to win another Bundesliga title in a few weeks time, and face Borussia Dortmund in another German Cup final.

However, when you take a look at all those honors, one is missing: The UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

After being bounced by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, Guardiola will leave Bayern without the one trophy he wanted most.

In three seasons under Pep, Bayern has been eliminated in the UCL semifinal each year. Each year it was to Spanish opposition, losing to Real Madrid (2014), Barcelona (2015), and Atleti (2016).

While reaching the Champions League semifinal is a great achievement for most clubs, it is a step back for Bayern. In 2013, just weeks before Guardiola was appointed boss, Bayern won the Champions League. They also reached the final in 2010 and 2012 before that.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s title-winning season ]

Pep won the Champions League twice in four seasons in charge at Barcelona, and he was expected to do the same in Germany. After three UCL finals appearances in four seasons before Guardiola and none under the Spaniard, it’s hard to argue his time with Bayern has been a success.

Yes, Guardiola will likely leave Munich with three Bundesliga titles, a mark of domestic dominance during his time at the Allianz Arena. However, Bayern had already won the league 22 times before Pep, as he was not brought there for Bundesliga success.

Simply put, Guardiola came to a Bayern team that was the best in Europe, and he will leave a Bayern team that is just the best in Germany.

Bayern Munich 2-1 (2-2, agg.) Atletico Madrid: Griezmann’s away goal sends Atleti to Milan

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 13:  Antoine Griezmann (R) of Atletico de Madrid celebrates their victory with teammate Koke (L) during the UEFA Champions League quarter final, second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vincente Calderon on April 13, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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  • Alonso, Lewandowski score for Bayern
  • Thomas Muller has penalty stopped
  • Griezmann’s goal sends Atleti through 

Despite losing the match and finishing tied on aggregate, Atletico Madrid are headed to their second Champions League final in three years as Diego Simeone’s men advance past Bayern Munich on away goals. It is the third straight season in which Bayern has been eliminated from in the semifinal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Bayern expectedly dominated possession from the start of the match, continuously pushing into Atleti territory. The Atletico back-line was stretched out of shape multiple times in the first half, a rare sight from Europe’s best defense, especially surprising with Diego Godin back in the starting lineup.

After a few stops from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, Bayern finally found a goal just after the half-hour mark. With a free kick from 20 yards out, Xabi Alonso stepped up and fired a low shot on goal. Alonso’s shot deflected off Jose Jimenez, skipping through the young center-back’s legs and leaving Oblak helpless, ending Atleti’s impressive run of defensive dominance.

Jose Jimenez nearly cost Atletico again just minutes later when he was called for a foul on Javi Martinez in the box, giving a penalty to Bayern. Thomas Muller tried to give his side their first lead of the semifinal, but Oblak guessed correctly and made a huge stop to keep the tie level on aggregate.

As the match headed towards halftime, managers Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone began to have some words on the touchline. Simeone had to be held back from Bayern’s Franck Ribery, although tempers cooled down and no discipline from the referee was necessary.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Bayern continued to control play after the break, but it was the visitors who found the second half’s first goal. Against all the run of play, Fernando Torres caught Bayern on the counter, sending Antoine Griezmann in on goal all alone. Griezmann buried his shot past Manuel Neuer to put Atleti back ahead on aggregate 2-1. It was Griezmann’s seventh Champions League goal and 31st in all competitions this season.

With Griezmann’s away goal, Bayern needed to score two more without conceding to reach the final. Despite the uphill battle, Pep’s men pushed on and got a response in the 74th minute. A high cross from David Alaba was headed back across the box from Arturo Vidal, where Robert Lewandowski was waiting for an easy tap home. Up 2-1 on the night but tied 2-2 on aggregate, Bayern had 20 minutes to find that decisive goal.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

While Bayern pressed, Atletico had a golden opportunity to finish the match when Fernando Torres earned the game’s second penalty. Torres was taken down from behind by Javi Martinez, and although replays showed the contact was initiated just outside the box, a penalty was given. Torres went to finish what he started, but once again the keeper prevailed as Manuel Neuer made a strong save to deny the Spaniard.

Guardiola urged his side on through the final minutes, but Atletico withstood the pressure to advance on away goals. Diego Simeone’s side has now eliminated Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, as Atleti can no longer be considered underdogs.