Soccer: Surging Real Salt Lake, unbeaten Sporting KC set for early showdown
Sandy • Jason Kreis smiled just a little bit at the question, thrown out at a postgame press conference just to see how fast the Real Salt Lake coach could scramble away from its decidedly presumptuous premise.
Would he characterize RSL's showdown with Sporting KC at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City next Saturday as a preview of the MLS Cup title game?
"No, that would be a mistake," he answered promptly and predictably, drawing laughs from the audience. "You can characterize it however you want, but I'm not going to agree with that."
Of course not.
But it hardly seems out of the question, even though there are still nearly seven months remaining in the Major League Soccer season.
While RSL leads the MLS Western Conference with 15 points from a 5-1-0 record, Sporting KC is the only unbeaten and untied team in the league. They're atop the MLS Eastern Conference at 5-0-0 and have allowed only one goal all season.
When the two clash, RSL will be seeking an unprecedented third straight road victory to start the season, which surely would bring along recognition as the early championship favorite.
"There's no doubt that Kansas City is a very, very good team," Kreis said, more seriously. "And even last year, they caused us some real problems with their tactics. â¦ We've got a lot of reasons why we should go there and be extremely motivated, because it's a fantastic team and it should be a fantastic test for us."
Seemingly every player in the locker room mentioned that he had watched Sporting KC beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 hours before RSL won its third straight game by beating Colorado 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.
So they know what they're getting into Â even if they agreed that it's a little early for title-game previews.
"I don't know if we can build it up quite to that high a level quite yet, because there's still a lot of soccer to be played," defender Nat Borchers said. "There's a lot of good teams out there. But I like the matchup with Kansas City. â¦ They play a very good brand of soccer. They keep possession. They send a lot of numbers forward. They're a lot like us, really, just with a different formation and different pieces to their game plan."
One of the big pieces is Kei Kamara, the forward who scored the winner against the Galaxy on Saturday. He leads the league by far in shots taken, and is backed by others such as forwards C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury, midfielder Graham Zusi and that solid defense.
RSL is just 1-4-2 in Kansas City, and lost 2-0 there last season.
But Kreis said he was encouraged that his team gets a whole week to prepare for the game, after a three-games-in-eight-days stretch that concluded with the Colorado victory.
"They're a very good team from top to bottom," defender Tony Beltran said. "They have a lot of dangerous attackers. Kei Kamara is a handful, and so are several others. So it's going to be a good game. We're going to have to be organized and we're going to have to be really good with the ball and not turn it over."
Saturday's game will be the sole regular-season matchup between the title contenders because the unbalanced schedule has teams playing opponents from the other conference only once.
But who knows?
Maybe they'll meet again at MLS Cup.
RSL at Sporting KC
P Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MDT, TV • CW30