Sporting KC 1-1 RSL: Western Conference playoff race stays muddy

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Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake drew 1-1 at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday. Corey Baird and Ike Opara cancelled each other out, a valuable point for either team, but also somewhat disappointing for each side given separation is key.

The opener came just nine minutes in, as Jefferson Savarino fed such a good ball forward, it left Sporting KC defender Opara so wrong-footed he ended up on his rear end. Baird was there for the calm finish, and RSL had its valuable lead. The visitors are in a vicious playoff battle, currently holding the last playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Still, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is leading an LA Galaxy charge that leaves them just one point back coming into Sunday’s match.

So, with the lead, RSL clammed up. The two teams shared possession, but Sporting KC began to pummel Nick Rimando’s goal. Sporting KC racked up 20 shots during the match, with nearly as many shots on target (6) to RSL’s total efforts on net (8).

Sporting KC would get its equalizer shortly after the halftime break as Johnny Russell swung in the corner and Opara lept high above Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach to meet his head to the ball, powering it past Rimando.

Both sides had opportunities to grasp the victory they would like to have back. Most notably, Krisztián Németh had a glaring miss in the 18th minute for KC, sliding to meet a point-blank cross from Matt Besler but putting it wide of the post.

The point could prove valuable for RSL, especially on the road where RSL has struggled, moving them two ahead LA Galaxy. Still, the full three would have been season-altering, as it would have moved them above Seattle. For Sporting, the win would have moved them into the top spot in the Western Conference, a huge advantage for playoff positioning.