Real Salt Lake Stun Sporting Kansas City Booking Western Conference Final Clash With Timbers
KANSAS CITY – Real Salt Lake stunned Sporting Kansas City and Major League Soccer with an unimaginable upset win in the dying minutes of the Western Conference Semifinal thanks to two second-half goals by substitutes Anderson Julio and Bobby Wood.
RSL beat Sporting KC, 2-1.
Interim manager Pablo Mastroeni opted for an unchanged line-up following the unthinkable victory at Seattle five days earlier. Sadly, due to MLS COVID-19 protocol, captain Albert Rusnák was forced to watch from the comfort of his living room after returning a positive COVID-19 test last Sunday.
Peter Vermes and Sporting Kansas City returned all three of their designated players to the starting XI. Two weeks earlier on Decision Day, Real Salt Lake rose to victory against a Sporting side that was without Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, and Gadi Kinda.
Remarkably, within the opening 10 minutes, Real Salt Lake mustered a shot on goal and a corner kick. Against Seattle, they failed to generate a shot and only ended up with one corner kick through 120 minutes.
Real Salt Lake was playing the game on their terms. They controlled the speed and tempo of the game, limited the counter-attacking opportunities of SKC, and were calm in possession.
Careless Herrera Mistake
However, all of the good work fell apart in the 23rd minute when Aaron Herrera made a very careless challenge on the edge of the box and conceded a penalty kick. Russell’s ensuing shot from the spot was buried into the back of the net after he sent David Ochoa flying the wrong way.
The goal broke a 279-minute shutout streak that dated back to the 45th minute of Real Salt Lake’s final home game against Portland on November 3rd.
As expected, the penalty changed the flow of the game and SKC found momentum and confidence following the game’s opening goal. But Real Salt Lake was able to settle down and re-find the game shortly thereafter.
The issue wasn’t that Real Salt Lake was being outplayed, the issue was that they were having a really difficult time generating any clear-cut goal-scoring chances.
At the half, Real Salt Lake had 56% possession, managing four shots with two on target. Sporting generated the same numbers through the opening 45, but their opportunities were far more dangerous than anything Real was able to create.
Mastroeni opted to not make any changes at halftime.
Sporting Kansas City flew out of the halftime tunnel and was immediately awarded a corner kick within the opening minute of the second half. Minutes later, following the game’s first yellow card to Everton Luiz, Real Salt Lake nearly conceded an own goal following a misguided header that rattled the post. On the ensuing corner, SKC center back rose above the pack and missed the bottom left corner of the net by only a few feet.
Real Salt Lake was on the back foot.
Dominate Second Half Response
Mastroeni made his first move of the match in the 57th minute when he brought on Justin Meram and Anderson Julio for Maikel Chang and Jonathan Menéndez.
As anticipated, Meram and Julio provided an immediate spark for Real Salt Lake. In the 65th minute, Meram made a superb run down the left flank and found the feet of Kreilach who was on the six-yard box but his shot fell to the waiting arms of SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia. It was Real Salt Lake’s best moment of the match.
Seconds later, Andrew Brody’s cross from deep bounced off the forehead of Justen Glad who was all alone on the penalty spot but his attempt veered well wide.
Regardless, Real Salt Lake was beginning to gain momentum.
Vermes clearly realized Real Salt Lake was beginning to find form and went to the bench in an attempt to settle down proceedings. He took of Kinda for SKC legend Roger Espinoza in the 70th minute.
The tactical adjustments between both managers continued, Mastroeni a minute later brought on Bobby Wood for Rubio Rubin.
Real Salt Lake found their equalizer in the 73rd minute when Brody whipped in a cross that found the soaring head of Julio. Children’s Mercy Park was silenced.
SKC Growing Frustrated
Following the equalizer, Real Salt Lake went back to slowing the game down and Vermes was on the verge of erupting. Real Salt Lake was frustrating the life out of SKC and their faithful supports.
As the minutes went by, Children’s Mercy Park softened in voice. The tension was growing rapidly, and Real Salt Lake looked more and more comfortable.
Heroics In Kansas City, Again!
As the stadium announcer was informing the patrons that four added minutes would be added, Meram flew down the flank beating multiple Kansas City defenders. He crossed the ball and found the toe of Wood who found the side netting for the game’s winning goal.
It was yet another display of heroism from a very undervalued Real Salt Lake squad.
Real Salt Lake will travel to Portland for a Western Conference Final bout against the Timbers.
It is Real’s first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since 2013.