Sporting Kansas City will get a depleted Real Salt Lake squad at 9 p.m. Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Coach Jason Kreis’ squad, which sits atop the Western Conference and is the front-runner for the Supporters’ Shield, will be without its three MLS All-Stars — goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and defender Tony Beltran — who are on the U.S. men’s roster for the CONCACAF Gold Roster.
Forward Alvaro Saborio, who has four goals and two assists in only eight games, won’t be available either. He’s playing for Costa Rica in the Gold Cup.
Not that Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes has any sympathy.
“It’s the world in which we live in and we all have to be able to deal with it,” Vermes said. “Nobody wants it and nobody’s looking for that to happen to them, but what are you going to do? You can’t do anything about it.”
Besides, Sporting KC, 9-5-6, is dealing with its own roster vacancies, especially after MLS All-Star and Best XI defender Matt Besler was called into the U.S. men’s camp for the Gold Cup knockout stage two days ago.
“We don’t have Besler,” Vermes said. “We don’t have (midfielder Paulo) Nagamura. I could keep going. But I don’t look at games like that. I truly have respect for every team in the league.”
Vermes pointed to Chivas USA’s midweek victory against Toronto FC despite being down a man as evidence that no team can be taken lightly.
“Teams in this league, no matter what position they’re in, find a way to win, because there’s so much parity in the league,” Vermes said. “If you interchange a guy here or there or a few guys are missing, you can never underestimate a team in this league. The other team can still get a result.”
Besides, with Sporting KC, which owns a five-match unbeaten streak (3-0-2), sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the game remains a juicy clash of conference leaders even with the toll taken by international duty.
Asked if that makes it the biggest match of the season to date, Sporting KC’s other All-Star and Best XI centerback, Aurelien Collin made no bones about it: “For me, this is going to be the biggest game, because they’re No. 1 in the West and we’re No. 1 in the East.”
Real Salt Lake is tough at home, boasting a 6-1-3 record this season, but Sporting KC is the best road team in MLS, going 4-2-3 so far away from Sporting Park’s friendly confines.
Some MLS observers are pointing to the showdown as a possible MLS Cup preview.
There are definite Supporters’ Shield implications. With a win, Sporting KC would draw within one point in the chase to capture the most points during the regular season, while a loss leaves Sporting KC seven points back — not out of it by any means, but not an insignificant hole either.
Vermes said the Supporters’ Shield “absolutely” remains an important goal for his club.
“We want to put ourselves in the best position we can be going into the playoffs,” Vermes said. “First, we’ve got to make them. Second, we’ve got to be in the best position, if we go through it that we get home-field advantage.”
Still, the Supporters’ Shield isn’t the most-coveted prize.
“The last two years we were No. 1 in the East and not good in the playoffs, so I’m more focused on how the team is going develop and how we arrive for the playoffs than the Supporters’ Shield,” Collin said.