Herriman • Throughout the first 45 minutes of Real Salt Lake’s draw against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, there wasn’t much action. Maybe it was tired legs for RSL. Maybe it was a defensive strategy for SKC. Maybe it was both.
Sporting head coach Peter Vermes, however, put it into words.
“I think both teams were almost feeling each other out,” Vermes said after the game. “‘Who’s going to do what?’ And nobody ever took the game.”
But on Sunday in Leg 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, there won’t be time for an exploratory feeling-out process. RSL knows with Sporting KC in their natural habitat, it will come out striking hard, looking for an early lead.
And because it knows this, RSL has zeroed in on a specific open stretch of the game to oscillate the momentum back in its direction.
“It’s going to be a tough first 15-20 minutes for sure because they’re going to come at us,” Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke said Tuesday after training. “They have an unbelievable environment and we have to manage the game a little bit.”
REAL SALT LAKE AT SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Western Conference semifinals, second leg
When • Sunday, 1 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
Petke might have a point. In the 28 regular-season games between RSL and SKC all time, Sporting has scored 13 goals in the first 30 minutes of play. Real, on the other hand, has scored eight.
This season, however, SKC has scored 16 total goals in the first 30 minutes against all opponents, while RSL has scored 18. Those numbers do not differentiate home and road games.
Corey Baird, who was named MLS Rookie of the Year on Monday, said it will be imperative for the team not to start slowly and to not let SKC’s crowd get into the game early.
“When they start getting into a rhythm, they’re a very dangerous team,” Baird said. “So just breaking them up as much as possible and just going at them.”
Thus far in the postseason, RSL has proven it has the capability of defending when it needs to, evidenced by a stellar performance against Los Angeles Football Club last week. But Sporting — the top team in the West — is a different animal, especially at home, Petke said.
“At home, they’re extremely aggressive, both attacking and defending,” Petke said. “And even though that they’re good at it, it’s still hard to stop.”
But the RSL coach, who has a 5-2-3 all-time record against SKC in the regular season, expressed confidence that if his team can just hold off its opponent Sunday for the first 15-20 minutes, Real will get its chances to score.
“We have to be organized,” Petke said. “We have to not give them anything, if that’s possible. And then as that happens, as the game gets more and more and opens up, there will be more room to play. It’s inevitable.”