Sporting Kansas City-Real Salt Lake Preview
MLS-leading Real Salt Lake continues to pick up points with some key contributors absent.
However, with international duty calling once again, RSL's eight-game unbeaten streak could be put to the test with East-leading Sporting Kansas City in town Saturday night.
Despite missing Alvaro Saborio the last three matches, and a trio of All-Stars - goalkeeper Nick Rimando, captain Kyle Beckerman and defender Tony Beltran - the last two due to Gold Cup play, Real Salt Lake (11-5-4) has pushed its record to 6-0-2 since a 3-2 loss at Montreal on May 11.
With 37 points, RSL sits atop the MLS standings and will remain there regardless of Saturday's outcome. Sporting (9-5-6) has 33 points after taking over the East lead last Saturday with a 3-0 victory over Toronto FC.
Salt Lake, though, wants to extend its lead in the Supporters' Shield race after earning its first victory in Texas a week ago, defeating FC Dallas 3-0.
"We're playing great right now and we just want to keep it going," defender Nat Borchers said.
RSL owns an 11-game point streak across all competitions, but Saborio (Costa Rica) and Americans Rimando, Beckerman and Beltran will not be available as all four are with their respective national teams preparing for Gold Cup quarterfinals Sunday in Baltimore.
Coach Jason Kreis' club, tied for the fewest goals allowed in MLS with 18, also will have to go with third-string goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who will make his first MLS start after Josh Saunders suffered a torn ACL against Dallas.
Sporting is eyeing another positive result after Jimmy Nielsen's league high-tying eighth shutout carried the club to its first clean sheet in seven tries.
"That's something that we haven't felt in a long time either," defender Matt Besler told Kansas City's official website. "It's important. It's something the back four talk about. That's our No. 1 job going into a game - not letting the other team score."
Besler, though, won't be able to help fellow All-Star defender Aurelien Collin and Nielsen against RSL's Javier Morales and Olmes Garcia - who both scored against Dallas - after getting called up by the U.S. team.
"I've said this in the past - I always support our national team's program, but it doesn't make me happy," said Sporting coach Peter Vermes, whose team is 3-0-2 in its last five games. "Those guys have been gone for every single qualifier, and all the other things that have gone on up to this point, so I'd rather have him here - but I understand where it is."
Defender Brandon McDonald could make his RSL debut after being acquired from D.C. United on Wednesday for two draft picks.
Collin scored the lone goal the last time these teams met April 14, 2012, in Kansas City, but Sporting has been outscored by a 5-1 margin while dropping two straight in Utah.