Real Salt Lake visits Sporting KC Sunday for Western Conference semifinal

After opening the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 win in Round One last weekend, No. 3 seed Sporting Kansas City faces No. 7 seed Real Salt Lake on Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park in the Western Conference semifinals in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and a limited number of standing-room only tickets may be available at

The match will be broadcast nationally in English on ABC and in Spanish on ESPN Deportes. The match can also be streamed in the ESPN App or on and can be heard over the radio locally on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM. There will be live commentary throughout the match from @SKCMatchday on Twitter.

After an impressive Round One performance, Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes has his squad in the Western Conference semifinals for a second straight year and third time in the past four postseasons.

Real Salt Lake comes into Sunday’s match following a 6-5 penalty shootout victory over the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday in which they became the first team in MLS Cup Playoffs history to not record a shot. After 120 scoreless minutes, RSL sank all of six their penalties in the shootout while 20-year-old goalkeeper David Ochoa produced a save on Seattle’s sixth attempt.

Sporting and RSL certainly are no strangers when it comes to playoff matches. The two clubs famously met in the 2013 MLS Cup as Sporting prevailed in penalties after a 1-1 draw in regulation. More recently, the two sides clashed in the 2018 MLS Cup Western Conference semifinals. Sporting took home a 5-3 aggregate win, punctuated by Daniel Salloi’s stoppage-time no-look goal.

In 2021, Real Salt Lake won both meetings in the regular season series.

On May 1 at Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake knocked off Sporting 3-1 with Alan Pulido scoring his first goal of 2021. On Nov. 7, Real Salt Lake beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Decision Day off Damir Kreilach’s stoppage-time goal to seal the team’s playoff berth. The match ended in controversy as the match official and video assistant referee missed a handball late in the match that would have given Sporting Kansas City a penalty kick.

With Sporting’s Round One win, the club improved to 18-0-0 in 2021 when scoring multiple goals. Vermes has turned to his offense all year as the team’s 58 total goals ranked second in MLS.

Leading the charge for the offense was the dynamic duo of Salloi and captain Johnny Russell. Salloi led the team in goals (16), tied for the team lead in assists (8) and was among the top goal contributors in MLS. Russell posted a career year himself with 15 goals and eight assists.

Salloi collected two more assists in the playoff opener, first on Khiry Shelton’s finish in the 17th minute to put Sporting KC ahead 1-0 early and then on Graham Zusi’s stunning long-distance strike in the 58th minute to cap off the scoring.

Centerback Nicolas Isimat-Mirin contributed the game-winner in first half stoppage time on a corner kick taken by Russell.

Sporting’s potent attack in 2021 did not just come from the front line.

The midfield had some of the best passers in the league this season. Roger Espinoza, Gadi Kinda, Ilie Sanchez and Remi Walter aided Sporting’s efforts in leading MLS in passes attempted (17,698), passes successful (15,131) and passing accuracy (85.5%). The quartet combined for seven goals and 11 assists as well.

In addition to stout defensive duties, the Sporting KC backline has stepped up into the attack in the postseason. Isimat-Mirin opened his scoring account last Saturday on the brink of halftime to put Sporting KC back on top at the break and Sporting’s most experienced postseason player, Graham Zusi, doubled the lead early in the second half with his first postseason goal. Zusi also added an assist on Shelton’s goal, giving him seven career postseason assists – most in the club’s storied history.

Real Salt Lake, led by interim manager Pablo Mastroeni, qualified for the playoffs behind stellar seasons from two playmakers.

The midfield duo of Kreilach and club captain Albert Rusnak combined for 47 goal contributions, tied with Salloi and Russell for the most by two teammates in MLS this season. Kreilach led the team in goals with 16 and added nine assists. Rusnak, who did not miss a single start in the regular season but missed RSL’s Round One match in Seattle due to a positive COVID-19 test, had 11 goals and 11 assists. Forwards Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubin were also active contributors in the attack with eight goals apiece.

Veteran defender Justen Glad holds down the backline for RSL. Glad, in his ninth season with the club, leads all RSL defenders in matches played, starts and minutes. Ochoa is Real Salt Lake’s fiery last line of defense in goal. The Homegrown Player, in his first season as the starting keeper, has made 83 saves and kept five clean sheets.

After a long and often congested regular season, Sporting is nearly back to full strength. Jaylin Lindsey is the only player listed on the team’s injury report as the Sporting KC Academy product suffered a hamstring injury earlier this season. All other players are available for selection on Sunday.

The winner on Sunday between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake will advance to the Western Conference Final to face No. 4 seed Portland Timbers FC, who eliminated No. 1 seed Colorado Rapids on Thursday with a 1-0 win.

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