If Álvaro Saborío is healthy, this one is easy.
As we’ve gone through Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, examining the teams position-by-position, it’s basically been a stalemate. The goalkeepers were a tossup, perhaps with a slight lean toward Sporting because of the nature of Saturday’s matchup. Two defenses with imposing center back tandems were judged dead even, while the midfields were basically a tossup, even if we leaned Real Salt Lake in the end.
But when you look at the forwards who could play major roles on Saturday, Saborío’s name stands out. In four years in Major League Soccer, the Costa Rican international had never failed to register at least 11 goals. Scoring every 112 minutes this season, Saborío was one of the most efficient snipers in the league, and although injury has kept him sidelined since leg one of the conference semifinals, RSL’s leading scorer could be back on Saturday. If he is, Real Salt Lake clearly has the better forwards.
And if he’s not (highly unlikely, at this point)? RSL still aren’t in bad shape. Robbie Findley, who scored the team’s equalizer in the 2009 final, found goals in each leg of the Western Conference final. Devon Sandoval also scored in leg one and has the physicality to compete with Aurélien Collin and Matt Besler in the Sporting penalty area. With João Plata and Olmes Garcia off the bench, Jason Kreis will have two valuable ways to change things up, even if Saborío is not one hundred percent.
Depth, however, is Kansas City’s strength. Their leading scorer, Claudio Bieler (10 goals), will likely start on the bench, with a former U.S. international Teal Bunbury and one-time starter Sonny Saad also candidates to relive Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong. If Peter Vermes is looking to kill off the game late, Jacob Peterson will get the call. Of Sporting’s seven subs, four may be potential forward options.
But while options aren’t a problem for Kansas City, production is. Only three players scored more than four goals this season, one of whom (Kei Kamara) is now in Middlesbrough. At various points this postseason, that inability to produce goals has been all too apparent, Dwyer and Sapong’s troubles finishing costing Kansas City goals. Sporting generated enough chances to cruise through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but without a consistent finisher in the box, Kansas City were left chasing second leg deficits at home.
Graham Zusi (one of the players with more than four goals) is also listed as a forward, but in attack, he’s Sporting’s answer to Javier Morales. Defensive responsibilities shouldn’t be ignored, but when it comes to comparing the forwards, it’s really about each team’s leading pair. And it’s really about the threat they pose on the other team’s goal.
More readily, can Sporting put out a duo to match Saborío and Findley? And if Saborío isn’t one hundred percent, are Dwyer, Sapong, and their eventual subs better than Sandoval, Findley, and the players Kreis has in reserve?
EDGE: Real Salt Lake
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