Sporting KC plays their final game of the group stage on Wednesday morning (yes, morning) against Real Salt Lake, who really don’t have much to play for.
Sporting Kansas City, on the other hand, do have something to play for. Their loss to Minnesota over a week ago put them in an early hole in the group stage and when Tim Melia received a red card and had to leave that game plus miss the entire match against Colorado, things didn’t look good.
Fortunately for Sporting KC, they bounced back against the Rapids on Friday and managed to secure three points in the standings. Their win, along with Salt Lake and Minnesota tying in their match later that evening, put Sporting just one point behind those two squads.
According to Five Thirty Eight, Sporting has an 88% chance of advancing in the tournament while Salt Lake has a 99% chance due to their win over Colorado and draw with Minnesota.
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The biggest thing heading into this match is that Tim Melia will be back in goal after having to miss Friday’s match due to his red card in the previous match. Even with Melia not in goal, Sporting managed to come away with three points (though Colorado playing down two men is largely to thank for that).
While Sporting Kansas City still has a high probability of advancing to the semifinals, it’s not guaranteed if they lose. A win or a draw more than likely get their ticket punched to the next round, but if they are in third place in their group, then it’ll go to a tiebreaker.
Salt Lake has won and drew in their first two matches, so it’d make sense if they opted not to necessarily play all of their key starters and rest up for the semifinals. As Chad S. Smith of The Blue Testament notes, however, if there does end up being a regular season, then these points will go toward the regular season and that could be motivation enough for Salt Lake to give it their all.
Plus, these two are rivals. Sporting beat Salt Lake in the MLS Cup in 2013 in penalty kicks and Salt Lake hasn’t managed to win it all or even get to the championship game since then. They’ve also had Sporting’s number, which Smith notes in the article linked above.
Here’s to hoping for either a win or draw on Wednesday against Real Salt Lake. While finishing in third place isn’t a death sentence for Sporting Kansas City, it’d be nice to avoid the stress of the tiebreakers.