On a frigid afternoon last December, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake played one of the more memorable MLS Cup championship matches in recent history. It required a record number of penalty kicks before Sporting KC claimed its first league trophy since 2000.
Only 119 days later, the rematch was absent the same drama, absent the sub-freezing temperatures and absent the goals.
In their only regular-season meeting this year, Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake played to a scoreless draw Saturday in front of the 19,838 fans at Sporting Park, the venue’s 39th consecutive sellout.
The anticipated rematch — heightened by back-and-forth bulletin-board talk between players throughout the week — lacked the theatrics of the MLS Cup, but it wasn’t vacant of scoring opportunities.
At least not for the home side. Sporting KC outshot Real Salt Lake 20-5.
“Sometimes the game isn’t fair,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “... As far as the game plan and the way the guys executed it, it was tremendous. The only thing we were missing was the goal.”
Sporting KC, 2-1-2, controlled the pace of play, even when it fell down a man after midfielder Uri Rosell was shown a red card in the 83rd minute.
But on a night he was asked to fill in for three-time all-star Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was up for the challenge. He made eight saves in his season debut, few of them easy.
None was better than a leaping stop he made to stone a rifle from midfielder Benny Feilhaber in the 34th minute.
“When I hit it, I thought it was going in, but he got to the spot and made a good save. That’s all there is to it,” Feilhaber said.
It was a common theme.
Trying to score for the third time in three games, forward Dom Dwyer owned a high-quality chance only 11 minutes into the game. After receiving an over-the-top pass from defender Matt Besler, Dwyer found himself one-on-one with Attinella in the goalie box.
Dwyer chipped a shot toward goal, but a sliding Attinella deflected it wide.
“We had a lot of opportunities — a couple I need to put away, which I’ll take responsibility for,” Dwyer said. “My one-on-one, I’d like to put that away. I opened my body too much and kind of showed him too much of the ball and where I was going to go.”
Sporting KC beat Attinella once. His defender Nat Borchers saved the day.
In the 63rd minute, Dwyer plopped a tough-angled shot off the outside post, which ricocheted back to winger Sal Zizzo. With Attinella out of the picture, Zizzo fired a shot toward a seemingly unmanned goal, but Borchers cleared it off the line.
“We did pretty much everything right today except the hardest part of the game, which is to score,” Feilhaber said.
The back line certainly did its part.
Sporting KC held Real Salt Lake to only one shot on goal, which keeper Eric Kronberg had no problem corralling for his second shutout of the MLS season.
While Real Salt Lake played without three key members of its defense — Rimando (knee), left fullback Chris Wingert (groin) and right fullback Tony Beltran (ankle) — Sporting KC welcomed its healthiest lineup of the season.
For the first time this season, the same four defenders to start last season’s MLS Cup championship — Besler, Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin and Seth Sinovic — shared the field together. The group didn’t miss a beat.
“We’re still disappointed that we weren’t able to win the game, but there’s really not much to say,” Besler said. “I don’t really know what to say about how we played. There were so many good things in so many different areas. It’s tough to access the game.”