Kansas City, Kan. • Just four hours before Real Salt Lake was set to kick off the game against Sporting Kansas City that would decide its season, the team got some bad news: Corey Baird was unavailable after being placed on concussion protocol.
Baird was slated to appear in RSL’s starting lineup. But during training Saturday, he suffered what coach Mike Petke called “an interesting, soft little blow to the head,” and led to a concussion.
The injury to the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year caused Petke so shift his thinking with his starting 11. Luis Silva, who hadn’t played since Oct. 18, started in Baird’s place.
“Anytime we have to make a chance like that, that changes our dynamic a little bit because in all the experience Luis has — and he’s very good with the ball and holding up — he doesn’t have Corey’s pace,” Petke said. “What we were looking forward to tonight was Corey’s pace getting behind the center backs.”
Silva played the entire first half before Sebastian Saucedo subbed in for him in the second half. Saucedo scored a goal 15 minutes into this appearance.
Also into the lineup — somewhat surprisingly — was Nick Besler, who played with the Real Monarchs last season. With Marcelo Silva sidelined due to a groin injury he suffered in the first leg of the series, Petke called on Besler to fill a defensive roll usually occupied by Justen Glad.
“Mike had confidence in me today,” Besler said. “When he told me I’d be starting, I started preparing like any other game I’d be playing in.”
Besler was in the immediate area of SKC’s first two goals that came within the first 20 minutes. Besler said on those plays, a Kansas City player sprung free due to a miscommunication.
“I stand by my decision 100 percent,” Petke said on choosing Besler to start over Glad, who played and started in 33 games this season.
Additionally, Salt Lake was without Albert Rusnák, who served a suspension Sunday due to yellow card accumulation. Damir Kreilach took Rusnák’s spot in the lineup and scored a goal.
“We had to get over it quickly,” Kyle Beckerman said of missing three key players of the team’s lineup. “You can’t really dwell on guys out. We have to just get on with it and try and do our best to fill in for those guys.”