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MLS Cup preview: Real Salt Lake meets Sporting Kansas City to decide Major League Soccer’s 18th championship

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KANSAS CITY – Playing careers will be defined and future coaching careers could be shaped Saturday on a bone-chilling afternoon at Sporting Park, where Major League Soccer’s 18th championship will be decided.

Sporting Kansas City will look for its second MLS Cup title overall, but the first for this current bunch, when the match against Real Salt Lake kicks off on ESPN just after 4 p.m. ET.

RSL, meanwhile, will aim for its second championship in five years, with many of the same central figures still around from the winners who triumphed over David Beckham and Landon Donovan in MLS Cup 2009, that one played in Seattle.

Saturday’s coaches are a big part of the plotlines here. RSL’s Jason Kreis was the youngest MLS manager to claim the title when he won in 2009 as a 36-year-old. He’s still considered one of the bright young minds of the business – so much so that well-heeled New York City FC has targeted Kreis as the choice to build their club. We’ll find out soon after Saturday’s contest if Salt Lake’s intense, introspective leader will remain in Utah or aim for something bigger.

On the other bench, a win Saturday for SKC manager Peter Vermes would tick the one unchecked box on his own promising managerial career. Kansas City has been a solid performer and U.S. Open Cup winner over the last three seasons, but this is his first time in the league’s ultimate match. Win Saturday and, who knows, perhaps we’ll all start mentioning Vermes along with Kreis as a potential, future U.S. national team manager.

The other looming story line: We already know Saturday’s match will set a record for coldest MLS Cup yet, much further on the frigid scale than the other chilly championships, rainy nights in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and in Seattle in 2009, and a wind-swept night in Toronto in 2010. Temperatures were in the low 40s for those; they’ll be down into the low 20s at best, and perhaps into the teens at Sporting Park.

An underground heating system should keep the field from freezing; it looked to be holding up fine as Real Salt Lake trained there Friday afternoon.

This is Major League Soccer’s second year under a format that gives host duties to the finalist with a better record. The net out means unpredictable weather, but the atmosphere inside a packed ground will be worlds beyond all those years of neutral-site deciders witnessed by largely indifferent audiences.

How will the game play out? Defensively, most likely, thanks to the dominant figures involved; A majority of the best players at Sporting Park on Saturday will be goal preventers more than goal producers, the goalkeepers, defenders and defensive-minded midfielders.

This crop of crème starts with Real Salt Lake center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler have found the sweet spot lately, a major reason RSL dispatched the two-time MLS defending champion LA Galaxy and then blew past Portland, which was everyone’s stylish choice to win the West.

source: Getty ImagesBut Sporting KC’s pair of center backs stand every bit as respected: U.S. international Matt Besler is the brains and irascible Frenchman Aurelien Collin is the brawn, if you will. Either way, they are quite effective, guiding the way to the league’s top goals against average over 2013.

There are, of course, goal scorers afoot, too. Robbie Findley, who scored in RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup win, has been huge in this year’s playoffs. Playmaker Javier Morales (left, in the middle) has been exceptional, as well, and the ability to find Findley on the break (probably behind one of the SKC fullbacks if they stray too far into the attack) is RSL’s top scoring ploy.

For the home team, during the Eastern Conference finals win over Houston, former U.S. international Benny Feilhaber was finally the playmaking presence everyone thought he could be upon this year’s arrival into the heartland. On their games, he and fellow pass-master Graham Zusi operating out of the 4-3-3 can create plenty of opportunities for whichever forwards are up in something of a rotation Kansas City.

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

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

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

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

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

  • Team versus team

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

Klopp aims to move past Liverpool’s first leg stoppage time loss

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool reacts during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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With a raucous Anfield behind them for the second leg, Liverpool shouldn’t be too frustrated despite the dramatics of its stoppage time loss at Villarreal.

That’s a big part of Jurgen Klopp‘s logic following the 1-0 first leg loss in the UEFA Europa League semifinal, one that came when Adrian scored in the final minute of stoppage time.

[ MORE: Match recap | Why Klopp kept Sturridge on bench ]

Klopp seemed, rightly, more concerned with where Alberto Moreno was on the goal.

From the BBC:

“Of course I’m not too happy with the goal we conceded in the last second. Counter-attacking in the 92nd minute makes not much sense – but it is only the first leg.

“It is 1-0 and they have to come to Anfield where we know how strong we are. We had our moments, we defended really good. This race is not over.

“If we had enough players around the box it was no problem but they played this one chip ball over Kolo [Toure], I don’t know where Alberto [Moreno] was in this moment but that was the only big mistake we made in this game and they scored with it.”

Liverpool had the best odds to win the tournament heading into the first leg, but now needs a multi-goal or shutout win to beat a tricky Villarreal, which enjoys a nice counter attack (They could, of course, also win with a 1-0 win and penalty kicks, but you know what we mean here).

Klopp on not starting Sturridge vs. Villarreal: “Decided for a little more stability”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13:  Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool warm up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Europa League quarter final between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Melwood Training Ground on April 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images
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Many were wondering why Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp decided not to use striker Daniel Sturridge in Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Villarreal in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Europa League semifinal.

Klopp says the decision was completely tactical, and laid it at the feet of Sturridge not having experience in Thursday’s desired formation.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

These comments were from before the match. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts after the loss.

“It was a very difficult decision to be honest. I thought about a lot of things and at the end I decided for a little more stability.

In a 4-3-3 we didn’t play with Daniel until now. For today, this 4-3-3, 4-5-1, this very flexible style it makes sense that the player played together before.”

Even well-regarded managers make mistakes, and Liverpool was very much missing a striker’s touch on Thursday (Roberto Firmino did hit the post, and looked somewhat dangerous).

Men in Blazers podcast: Loretta Lynch in the house!

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens to East Haven Police Chief Brent Larrabee, left, speak during a community policing tour, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in East Haven, Conn. Lynch is in Connecticut to highlight improvements in relations between police and Latinos since four officers were arrested in 2012 on abuse charges. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
AP Photo/Jessica Hill
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The “FIFA Slayer” is in the building. Rog sits down with Loretta Lynch, the 83rd attorney general of the United States, for an interesting conversation in the latest MiB pod.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Sevilla: Gameiro, Vitolo give two-time champs an edge

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Facundo Ferreyra, left, competes for the ball with Sevilla’s Mariano during semifinal first leg of the Europa League soccer match, between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla at Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, western Ukraine, Thursday, April  28, 2016. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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Vitolo scored a goal then drew a penalty, and Kevin Gameiro converted the chance as Sevilla picked up a pair of road goals in a 2-2 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday in the first leg of the clubs’ UEFA Europa League semifinal.

Marlos had a goal and an assist for Shakhtar Donetsk, with Taras Stepanenko scoring Shakhtar’s other goal.

Sevilla has won the last two tournaments, and hosts Thursday’s second leg with an advantage toward reaching a third.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

Gameiro set up that oh-so-pivotal road goal in the first 6 minutes, sliding the ball to Vitolo for his left-footed finish between the legs of Andriy Pyatov.

But the Ukranians weren’t slow to respond, and Shakhtar netted twice before halftime. First Marlos scored a left-footed of his own from Yaroslav Rakitskiy in the 21st minute, and then Marlos turned provider for Stepanenko’s headed finish in the 35th.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]