Kick Off: Is Sporting vs. RSL the match of the season?

Kick Off - Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake

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It’s pretty simple.

Here’s the chief takeaway from the weekend’s MLS action: Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake coming up this Saturday is the match of the 2012 season so far (April 14 – 8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

Both clubs lead their respective conferences. Both are on 15 points. Both have played some of the best soccer of the early season. So it’s no surprise when RSL’s Jason Kreis was asked in his Saturday postgame press conference whether Sporting vs. RSL was an MLS Cup 2012 final preview: “We’ve got a lot of reasons why we should go there and be extremely motivated, because it’s a fantastic team and it should be a fantastic test for us."

The Salt Lake Tribune doesn’t need Saturday’s encounter to prove anything. After the 2-0 win in Saturday night’s Rocky Mountain Cup clash against Colorado (watch the highlights here), one columnist says “Believe it — RSL will win the MLS Cup this season.”

Sporting KC will have something to say about that after knocking off the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy 1-0 at Livestrong Sporting Park (watch the highlights here). Although the final result may look close, LA manager Bruce Arena readily conceded defeat: “It was a very physical game and they really, on the day, did a better job in the battling department. They beat us on almost every header today and did a great job on second balls.”

The game-winning goal was scored by Kei Kamara, whose case for MVP this year can only be helped by this feature which aired at halftime of the SKC-LA match on ESPN. (VIDEO)

Just how good are Kansas City? Not only are they the first team to start 5-0-0 since the league’s inaugural season, they are also on an MLS-record streak of 245 consecutive minutes without allowing a shot on goal.

Historic was the Montreal Impact’s first-ever MLS victory, 2-1 over rivals Toronto FC (watch the highlights here). Impact goal scorer Sinisa Ubiparipovic probably summed it up best: “We needed this bad.”

No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger scored what was eventually considered the game-winning goal and he was on a flight back to Duke University two hours after coming on as a second-half sub: “If anyone out there wants to write my term papers, we can arrange something. … I'll be done in three weeks, and then it's all going to be about being here [in Montreal].”

Meanwhile in Toronto, four losses to start the season has manager Aron Winter promising changes and facing questions about his job security: “In the coming weeks, I’m going to change some things. Some players we have given confidence for four games but they don’t bring those things we expected. It’s clear it’s not good and I don’t accept it anymore.”

The Thierry Henry goal-scoring road show made a stop in Columbus over the weekend, where the New York Red Bulls beat the Crew 4-1 behind two each from Henry and Kenny Cooper (watch the highlights here). But Crew manager Robert Warzycha wants some credit for at least two of the goals: “Those were probably rookie mistakes that we made, the first goal and the second goal … that put us on our heels in the beginning.”

There was one team came back from giving up a bad goal as the San Jose Earthquakes won 3-1 against Vancouver (watch the highlights here). San Jose were losing 1-0 after conceding a goal off a throw-in and the Whitecaps were bossing them around in the second half at Buck Shaw Stadium: “I thought we were dead and buried at 1-0,” San Jose manager Frank Yallop said.

But the Quakes then proceeded to score on a throw-in of their own and the Whitecaps capitulated: "We were on cruise control and just had a disappointing slip up on the throw-in. And once they got confidence, it was all downhill after that,” said Vancouver ‘keeper Joe Cannon. “This is going to hurt because I think we should have been coming home with three points.”

Another surprising comeback took place at JELD-WEN Field, where Chivas USA overturned a 1-0 result and won 2-1 in Portland against the Timbers (watch the highlights here). "We played like an expansion team — very nervous in front of a big crowd," said Portland manager John Spencer, who watched his team lose their third in a row.

With three home losses and two victories on the road, Chivas USA are asking themselves whether they’re better off scheduling more away matches: “When you come to a place like Salt Lake or Portland, the environment forces you to be engaged for 90 minutes, and your mind is not allowed to wander," said Goats forward Alejandro Moreno. "At home at times, we're not able to gather the support that is important for us.”

The only scoreless draw of the weekend was the 0-0 between D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders (watch the highlights here). According to D.C. manager Ben Olsen: “I don’t think offensively either team was really at their best.”

But there was drama: Just moments after coming on as a late sub, ex-D.C. left back Marc Burch, who had critical words for United in the lead-up to the match, headed a ball against the left post on a play which could have provided a stoppage-time winner for Seattle. “If that goes five inches to the right, he ends up with a goal. … It would have been a dream moment for Marc.”

The ball was going in for Americans playing abroad. Chievo Verona’s Michael Bradley scored a goal in Serie A, DaMarcus Beasley netted for Puebla in a comeback win, Joe Corona came through for up-and-coming Tijuana and ex-New England Revolution forward Clint Dempsey reached the 20-goal plateau with this stunning free kick. (VIDEO)

In the meantime, Dempsey says he won’t be making a decision on whether to return to sign a new Fulham contract until the summer.

There may be a new international player joining MLS even before the summer. He plays for Sporting Cristal in Peru and his name is Luis Advíncula, but he goes by “Bolt.” (SPANISH)

It’s the Easter equivalent of Boxing Day for the English Premier League today with plenty of action. Fans in the USA can catch Newcastle vs. Bolton (10 am ET, Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes) and Aston Villa vs. Stoke City (12:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes). There’s Tottenham vs. Norwich followed by Everton vs. Sunderland on ESPN Deportes (10 am ET). But the big match is Dempsey and Fulham taking on Chelsea (3 pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).

You probably heard about Aston Villa’s Stylian Petrov, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Did you know that the Bulgarian national team doctor claims Petrov is a “Chernobyl kid?”

You’ve probably never heard of Bill Miller, chairman of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Miller Industries, Inc. Well, he’s making a run at buying Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.

You gotta hope for Rangers that US captain Carlos Bocanegra is involved in the negotiations. He says that Rangers are on par with Manchester United and Arsenal as global brands. He's not kidding. Read it here.

Lastly, courtesy of Dirty Tackle, here’s a unique celebration: Your team scores a game-winning goal and you hug the nearest person to you. Even if he happens to be the match referee. (VIDEO)

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

New York’s Thierry Henry bags two more: his brace vs. Columbus Crew (VIDEO)

Catch up with all the action from Matchday 5 in a single video

Was there a hand ball committed by RSL’s Fabián Espíndola on his goal vs. Colorado?


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