Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City required 10 rounds of penalty kicks to decide MLS Cup back in December. The narrow margin between the sides continued on Saturday night as their first meeting since that affair ended in a 0-0 draw at Sporting Park.
Sporting hit the post through Dom Dwyer in the second half and forced stand-in goalkeeper Jeff Attinella into several good stops, but RSL held firm for most of the night and relied on a resolute defensive display to secure a point.
The opening stages operated more openly than both sides might have preferred. Olmes Garcia fired over the bar for the visitors inside the first two minutes, while Nat Borchers blocked well to thwart Graham Zusi’s attempted cross.
Sporting created the best chance of the first half and produced the first of several fine saves from Attinella after 11 minutes. Matt Besler stepped into space allotted in the middle third and clipped a delicate ball over the top. Dwyer raced clear, but Attinella rushed out quickly to thwart the attempt.
Attinella – thrust into the starting XI with Nick Rimando (knee) ruled out through injury – found himself under duress more often than expected before the interval. He denied both Benny Feilhaber and Seth Sinovic before the interval as RSL resolutely absorbed the pressure exerted by Sporting in the final third.
RSL once again focused on its shape in the early stages of the second half with Sporting enjoying most of the play and the majority of the possession. Aurélien Collin forced Attinella into a save seconds after play resumed in a bid to break the deadlock.
Zusi posed many of the issues with his active movement and his relentless searching for gaps in the RSL shape. His darting run carved open the RSL defense and placed him in a good position to receive a square ball from Sinovic moments later. Zusi turned well, but he dragged his shot just wide of the far post from a promising position.
Dwyer nearly rectified that miss moments later after he latched onto a ball down the right and rounded the wandering Attinella on the edge of the penalty area. The bustling striker managed to turn his effort toward the vacated net, but it deflected off the near post. Nat Borchers then cleared away a subsequent attempt to turn home to squash the danger.
RSL continued its dogged rearguard work with Borchers and Chris Schuler both down well to block potential Sporting efforts. Sporting manager Peter Vermes threw Claudio Bieler into the fray in a bid to increase his side’s sharpness, but the plans for a late winner hit an unexpected snag seven minutes from time when Rosell received a straight red card for a challenge on second-half substitute Devon Sandoval.
The remaining period passed with little incident for either side as RSL claimed a point for their defensive application on the evening and Sporting rued its inability to convert in front of goal to collect the full complement at the final whistle.