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SANDY — Nearly two weeks ago, Real Salt Lake advanced over the Portland Timbers to this season’s MLS Cup and will face the MLS Eastern Conference champs, Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, Dec. 7, inside Sporting Park.
The Salt Lake club has fought for four years to return to the MLS Cup final since its last appearance where it beat the Los Angeles Galaxy in a match that was decided by a penalty kick shootout and ended with RSL claiming the 2009 MLS Cup and earning the first star over its crest on the Claret and Cobalt kit.
Eight players from that 2009 squad are with the club today as it returns to the MLS Cup to go after another star and lift another trophy.
Needless to say, Saturday’s match is one the Salt Lake club is very ready to play.
“The wait has been tough,” RSL defender Nat Borchers told ESPN700 Tuesday of the lengthy break. “It hasn’t been as tough between the wait in between the Portland (Western Conference final) series, just because we’re really excited for this match and we’re enjoying the ride here, enjoying talking to all the fans, and everybody associated with our club is excited as well. Yeah, we’re ready to get after it.”
The Salt Lake club left Utah Thursday afternoon for Kansas City, and sported a camo and black combo dress code, similar to when RSL traveled to Portland for the second leg of the Western Conference final series just two weeks ago.
The camo and black combo dress code may help the club’s mindset leading up to Saturday, but it won’t help the club much on the field Saturday afternoon, as it will be playing in frigid 20-degree temperatures. However, the Salt Lake club isn’t concerning itself too much with the weather, as both sides will be dealing with it the same.
“For me, the biggest impact weather can have is on field conditions,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told ESPN 700 Wednesday. “I’ve played on frozen fields myself, we’ve had some training sessions on frozen fields and I know it can be really difficult to perform on those. I know for sure now that Kansas City has underground heating on their field; we’ve re-watched their last game against Houston, which was also in the 20 degrees, by the way, and the field looked like it was just fine.
"So I don’t expect it to be massive problems. I do think that the players are going to get cold, their fingers and their toes are going to get cold, but both teams are playing on the same field and I think it affects both teams equally.”
The Salt Lake club’s bigger concern for Saturday is its opponent, Sporting Kansas City, and the challenges that will be awaiting RSL on the pitch Saturday afternoon. The two sides met only a single time during the regular season, on July 20, a match that resulted in an unfortunate 1-2 loss for RSL inside the walls of Rio Tinto Stadium in the last seconds of the match.
Despite its single result with SKC this season, it’s an opponent that the Salt Lake club is ready and prepared to play and knows what to expect.
“Both teams want to get after it,” said Kreis. “I feel like this is a very similar opponent to what we faced in the last round in Portland in that both play the same system, both play a very similar style and both teams, meaning Kansas City and Salt Lake, will be battling for the front foot and who is going to dictate the flow of the game.”
The RSL sideline boss will have some difficult decisions to make for Saturday — the 11 to start on the pitch and the seven who will man the bench. One thing is for sure, though, Kreis won’t be choosing the lineup based on the opponent.
“I don’t know that I’m really going to consider the opponent too much,” Kreis said of the lineup for Saturday. “I think I’m just going to put out there what I think is our absolute best lineup for this one game at this particular time in our season. And obviously the biggest considerations will be the injuries, fitness related to injuries and also, you know, you consider form — what we’ve done over the past several matches. There will be difficult decisions, but none of the decisions will hinge upon our opponent and what they bring to the table.”
Fans are likely to see the return of two regulars Saturday, forward Alvaro Saborio and defender Chris Wingert, who have both been nursing injuries the last couple weeks.
“Both those guys have trained fully the last three training sessions we’ve had,” said Kreis. “They’ve both looked pretty darn good. You know, a little bit of rust, but that’s typical anytime you’re not playing soccer for a few weeks. But they’ll both have a full week of training and I think they’ll be both in contention for the starting lineup on Saturday. We’ll see.” Kira Terry is a sports writer covering Real Salt Lake for KSL.com. Follow her on Twitter, @kiraterry.