Daniel Salloi confident Sporting KC can "win the battle" against Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa has embraced the dark arts in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

And as Sporting Kansas City prepare to face Ochoa's RSL in Sunday's Western Conference Semifinal (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes), SKC forward Daniel Salloi is all for it.

"I personally like that," Salloi said of Ochoa, who copped to playing the "villain" after helping RSL to a Round One triumph on penalties over the Seattle Sounders.

Ochoa received an early yellow card for dissent, then pushed the limit with behavior he admitted was designed to eat time and disrupt Seattle's rhythm.

"I think that’s what drives sports," Salloi continued, "When players are like that or teams in general. I think it’s awesome. He needs to do what he can to stop the opponent.

"I’m very excited to face up against players like him. Hopefully I can score and then I’ll win the battle this weekend and we’ll win the game. But yeah, I think he’s a great goalie. He’s a crazy guy for sure. But hopefully he’ll get the best out of us this weekend."

RSL bested Kansas City in both regular-season meetings this year, including a 1-0 Decision Day victory at Children's Mercy Park that put the Claret and Cobalt into the postseason.

Even though Pablo Mastroeni's team pulled off a shock result in Seattle on Tuesday night, Sporting were flying in Round One.

Salloi assisted two goals as SKC dominated in a 3-1 victory over Vancouver, after Whitecaps interim manager Vanni Sartini guaranteed another win from his Cinderella side.

If that was any indication, Ochoa's chatter might just bring the most out of Salloi and company.

"What Vancouver said, it hypes their team, it hypes our team," Salloi said. "These are great things. And for me, myself, on the field I’m more focused on my own play. I don’t really – I’m not great at talking trash. But there’s some players who are great at it. For us, I leave it to Johnny [Russell] or Roger [Espinoza] who talk the trash. They’re the best at it."

The Decision Day clash between these sides included its own controversy, with the Professional Referees Organization later admitting an error in not awarding a potential go-ahead penalty kick to SKC for a 90th-minute handball on Justen Glad. Damir Kreilach's winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time then sealed all three points for RSL, eliminating the LA Galaxy from postseason contention as combined with their 3-3 draw against Minnesota United FC.

With that swing, SKC were denied an automatic spot in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. They can still get in should they win MLS Cup on Dec. 11.

"We're totally over that," manager and sporting director Peter Vermes insisted. "That has nothing to do with any of this now. The season ended. We had to move on. We did."

But since Sporting won their last MLS Cup over RSL in 2013, there's always been a little extra between these teams, even if they aren't quite geographical rivals.

Perhaps their DNA is closer than most realize, such as both teams' reliance on breakout 2021 seasons from Kreilach and Salloi. Each posted a career-high 16 goals despite beginning the year on almost nobody's shortlist for the Golden Boot presented by Audi.

"There’s similarities," Vermes said. "Probably market size, how we build our roster, things like that. There’s probably a lot of similarities there in that respect. And you end up having two teams that are similar and battling, I think that’s what it comes down to. Obviously this game will be the same thing."

The winner will advance to face the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Final, a game SKC could host as the No. 3 seed.

"I like playing [RSL] because I think we play exciting games," Salloi said of the West's No. 7 seed. "... I’m sure they will be hyped, too. And I honestly can’t wait until Sunday."