HERRIMAN, Utah – Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City have maintained a longstanding enmity over the years, though it may be superseded for the time being by the importance of postseason positioning.
RSL visit SKC on Sunday (5 pm ET | FS1 – Full TV and streaming info), and while there are still plenty of hot coals left over from the heated clashes of the past – including an epic clash in the 2013 MLS Cup final (pictured above) – Salt Lake aren’t taking their eyes off the game’s playoff implications.
“It’s more of just a Western Conference game,” RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We don’t need to make any statements. We just need to prove to ourselves we can win these games.”
With Sporting sitting in second place in the Western Conference, a road victory for RSL would not only provide a big psychological boost, but also reap extra points in their quest to finish in third or fourth place and thus host a game in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Coach Mike Petke’s side fell just one point short of the 2017 playoffs, and want to avoid last season’s fate of waiting to the final day of the season to see if they’ve qualified.
“We definitely want to control our own destiny this year,” said Brooks Lennon. “It was very disappointing last year having to rely on other teams to get results. We want to pick up the points we need to pick up. Going into [the final] day we already need to be in the playoffs.”
Petke is trying to turn the team’s focus to what they can control: earning enough points for a playoff berth and a good run of form heading into the postseason.
“I’m really just trying to concentrate on us now, because we have it in our own hands,” he said. “It’s not guaranteed, but we’re in a decent position right now and we need to keep doing the things that are going to get us in the playoffs.”
That includes earning points on the road in a difficult environment like SKC’s Children’s Mercy Park.
“The Houston and Colorado results [both away wins] show we can go into tough opponents on the road and get a result, and we just have to bring that into Kansas City, because they’re one of the best teams in the league,” Petke said.
This will be the third meeting of the season between the two teams, who faced off in the Fourth Round of the U.S. Open Cup, a 2-0 KC win at Rio Tinto Stadium. And while familiarity breeds contempt, reaching the playoffs ranks higher on RSL’s to-do list than settling any old scores.