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Midfield will be crucial battle ground for RSL vs. SKC

SANDY, Utah – Sporting Kansas City are the hottest team in the league. With five wins in five tries, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis knows that it’s going to take something special to get the best of his Eastern Conference opponent on Saturday in a first vs. first battle (6:30 pm MT, watch LIVE online and on CW30 beginning with 6:00 pm pre-game show).

And perhaps most importantly, Kreis’ gameplan will lean on exercising exceptional tactical awareness against Sporting’s high-pressure set up.

“It’s an interesting team,” Kreis said after Wednesday’s training session. “It’s a very disruptive team. They put a lot of players in your half of the field, and try not to allow you to play, which can be difficult for us because we like to knock the ball around.

“We like to have possession for long stretches and against a team like Kansas City sometimes that’s maybe not going to be possible. So it puts us into maybe another place, where we have to decide if we can play another way.”

OPTA Spotlight: The stats behind Sporting KC's pressure

And although Kreis didn’t reveal his solution, he did highlight a potential weakness.

“They have three very good midfielders that work extremely hard, and are good with the ball,” he explained. “That’s a lot of ground for them to cover from backs to the forwards, and from side to side, being only three of them, but they do a very nice job of it.”

If RSL can somehow elude the initial disruptive pressure of Sporting’s attacking players and quickly get the ball deep into the spacious midfield, then perhaps the Salt Lake attack could open up their opponent. Even if they do manage to exploit that space, they’ll come face to face with a Kansas City backline that’s only surrendered a single goal in five matches.

Fortunately, Real Salt Lake have seen several 4-3-3/4-5-1 formations this season, and Kreis is hoping that’s been good preparation for his squad coming into this match, even if those opponents couldn’t match Sporting KC’s suffocating pressure.

“When we possess the ball, the spaces that open up are different based on what tactical shape you are playing [against],” explained Kreis. However, he pointed out that “the tactical shape of [Kansas City's] midfielders is different than any of the 4-5-1/4-3-3s we’ve played. So the spaces may be a little bit different.”

His team’s ability to adapt to this element could be the key. They did reasonably well against New York in this regard in week two, but struggled finding the right spaces against Montreal in a mid-week game last week. For a team that thrives on playing through the midfield, success in that arena is crucial.

However, despite the clear emphasis on tactics from both camps, Kreis boiled the game down in a much simpler manner.

“It’s an away game against a very good opponent,” said Kreis. “We’re going to do our best to see if we can give them a good challenge.”