Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City will add another chapter to their heated rivalry on Saturday, when the Claret-and-Cobalt head to Children's Mercy Park for the clubs' first regular-season meeting of the year (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE.)
Sporting's players -- some of whom have been central to the feud over the years -- are somewhat divided over whether the rivalry is as hot as it once was. After all, it's been almost two years since any kind of flare-up in the national media.
That last happened in 2015, with Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber lighting some fires when he called RSL the team he “[hates] the most.” (Feilhaber, by the way, is among those who still sees the rivalry as undiminished.) His targeted disdain for Real -- and especially for midfielder Kyle Beckerman -- was one of the hotter flashpoints in the long-running rivalry, one that predates SKC’s win against RSL in MLS Cup 2013 and traces its origins all the way back to a preseason friendly in 2011.
2011 Preseason Punches
The RSL-SKC feud really got going in March 2011, when a preseason friendly between the two sides in Arizona erupted into a full-fledged brawl. Physical from the opening whistle, the match turned on its head late in the second half, with both benches clearing after Roger Espinoza made a hard tackle on RSL’s Javier Morales.
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Then-RSL head coach Jason Kreis pulled his team off the field following the fisticuffs, abandoning the match with about 10 minutes still to play. The clubs did some battle in the press following the game, with RSL alleging that SKC’s Omar Bravo kicked Morales in the head during the melee, a charge that SKC vehemently denied.
Wingert sends a message, Opara gets last laugh
After two years of relative peace, the rivalry ratcheted back up with an intense encounter at Rio Tinto Stadium in July 2013. Chris Wingert set the tone early, leveling SKC forward Kei Kamara in a nasty collision just seconds after kick off.
Wingert, who was controversially given only a yellow for the challenge, would get ejected later in the match, earning a second yellow for a 66th minute foul. SKC bagged the equalizer on the ensuing free kick, with Ike Opara eventually scoring in the seventh minute of stoppage time – five minutes were initially posted – to give Sporting a 2-1 win.
It was no idle goal. SKC ended the regular season with 58 points to RSL’s 56 – giving them home field advantage over the Claret-and-Cobalt in that December’s MLS Cup.
MLS Cup 2013
We all remember Sporting’s dramatic shootout win, RSL’s three shots off the post and the bitter, bitter cold.
With all the drama on the field, you’d be forgiven for not recalling some of the barbs traded before and after MLS Cup 2013. Then-RSL GM Garth Lagerwey famously called his team “diametrically opposed” from Sporting, saying Salt Lake’s “passing, possession, beautiful game” stood in stark contrast to Kansas City’s “physical, rock ‘em, sock ‘em style.”
The fans got in on the action too, with RSL supporters stung after many used a leaked code initially intended for SKC season ticket holders to purchase tickets – which were later voided – to the final at Sporting Park.
Feilhaber fires things up
Feilhaber’s 2015 comments came at an opportune time: Sporting’s move back to the Western Conference made the feud more regular, after five years of only facing off once in league play.
There has been only one knockout match between the two sides since 2013, with Sporting prevailing 3-1 in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals on their way to that year's title -- but RSL have had the better of league action in recent years, going unbeaten in MLS play against Sporting since that hard-fought MLS Cup final.
Sporting will be looking to get back on top of the scoreline on Saturday night -- and despite two coaching changes for Real and a host of personnel changes on both sides since the height of the feud, chances are that, even with cool weather and rain predicted for the match, it's going to be a heated affair once more.