The Full 90

Sporting Kansas City not overhyping match with Salt Lake

Updated: 2012-04-13T23:23:45Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

Nobody associated with Sporting Kansas City wants to talk about it.

And with good reason, because quite frankly, it is far too early to worry about the MLS Cup, which is Dec. 1 at the home site of the team with the best regular-season record.

Still, if the first month of the season is any indication, there seems to be an excellent chance that Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake will clash for the 2012 championship.

With more than 30 games remaining before either team can reach that point, the result of a game played in April isn’t likely to have much bearing on the outcome that day.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to look at Saturday’s showdown between the top two clubs in Major League Soccer (at the moment) through the lens of what may come.

Sporting KC, 5-0-0, is the only undefeated team in the league at the moment, but Real Salt Lake, 5-1-0, which will be the visitor at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park, has matched manager Peter Vermes’ club in wins and points.

Any chatter about the possibility that the current Eastern and Western Conference leaders might meet again with much more on the line, however, will be left to the media and fans.

“They are a very good team and have a lot of consistent qualities the last few years, because there are a lot of consistent guys on their roster,” Vermes said. “It’s going to be a major test for us, for sure, but it’s still just the sixth game of the season.”

That’s too early for pronouncements about which team is the league’s best despite sizzling starts for both squads — Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 loss March 24 against Chivas USA notwithstanding.

“It’s the sixth game of the season for us and seventh for them,” Vermes said. “We’re so far away from anything like that it’s not even worthwhile to entertain. It’s the next game on the schedule for us.”

Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, who scored the first goal in Dallas Burn and Real Salt Lake history nine years apart and was the first MLS player to reach 100 goals, will try exploiting a Sporting KC midfield that can be stretched a bit thin because of the high-pressure 4-3-3 formation Vermes prefers.

“Jason was a very good player and he also was an efficient player on the field,” Vermes said. “I think his team plays that way as well. They’re efficient and stick to what they’re good at, then go do it.”

That will probably mean trying to knock the ball around through the midfield, focusing on keeping possession and selectively picking spots to push forward.

“They are a great team,” right back Chance Myers said. “They have had the same core group of guys the last several years and play a certain style of soccer. They like to keep possession of the ball, move the ball and get numbers behind the ball as well. … It’s a big challenge, but every next game is a big challenge. That’s how we look at it.”

Sporting KC’s defense hasn’t allowed a shot on goal in a MLS-record 245 minutes and has four shutouts and one goal allowed in five games, but Myers knows a team is going to net a goal through the run of play eventually.

“We still have to work on things defensively and as long as we can get better every day, that’s our mentality,” Myers said. “We need to break them down and cut off passing lanes so we can do our best to keep them in the back.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer

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