Over the course of the last several years, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City have grown quite familiar with each other. With that familiarity has come a feeling of discontent between the two clubs that will be on display on Wednesday in the semifinal of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Sporting Park in Kansas City.
“It’s a semifinal over there, so I think it’s going to be a fight,” RSL midfielder Javier Morales said. “On the field, I think we can go there and win the game.”
A rivalry born from two highly-competitive teams driven by the fire of the club’s leaders, RSL and Sporting KC have played matches on a razor’s edge in recent years. When they met in the MLS Cup Final in 2013, it took 120 minutes and PKs to declare a winner. In the first rematch at Sporting Park last year, they played to a scoreless draw. Then this year, they saw the same result in Kansas before a pair of 2-1 wins for RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium.
That sets the stage for another clash between the two clubs in the Open Cup, where both teams have found success in recent years with Kansas City winning the tournament in 2012 and Salt Lake reaching the final in 2013.
“I think we both know what to expect from the other team. I think we’re well-rehearsed in playing in big games at their stadium in front of their crowd,” said RSL defender Tony Beltran. “I think it’s going to be a fun, high-level affair.”
This season, Kansas City has seemed to bring out the best in Salt Lake and the magnitude of the match isn’t lost on Head Coach Jeff Cassar, who rested some key players on Saturday rather than sending them to Vancouver to take on the Whitecaps in the middle match in a stretch of five games in 15 days.
Part of that was out of necessity, as travel adds to the toll that playing time takes out of a team, but part was because of the importance of sharpness in Wednesday’s match.
“We’re going to have to play a complete game. We’re going to have to have balance against this team. They have dangerous players,” said Cassar, who pointed to a total team effort as the catalyst to the club’s success thus far against Kansas City. “Everyone’s been on the same page defensively and when we’ve gotten our opportunities we’ve taken them against them. It’s going to have to continue again.”
While RSL has had success in three regular season meetings, the stakes are raised in the Open Cup semifinal as Salt Lake looks to get back to a tournament final for the first time since 2013 when it reached the Open Cup and MLS Cup finals.
“It’s an opportunity to play in a final – and to maybe host a final,” Beltran said. “Absolutely it’s the most important game so far. It has a playoff feel to it.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. MT with a live stream on RealSaltLake.com and the radio broadcast on ESPN 700.