First-place Sporting KC visits surging Real Salt Lake (Jul 22, 2017)
Sporting Kansas City will face a surging Real Salt Lake squad when the two teams clash Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Sporting KC (8-4-8) sits atop Major League Soccer's Western Conference with 32 points, one ahead of FC Dallas and three in front of the third-place Houston Dynamo.
Real Salt Lake (7-12-2) is eighth with 23 points. RSL is three points behind the San Jose Earthquakes and four behind three teams that are tied for fourth with 27 points.
Sporting KC has not played an MLS match since July 6, when the club played to a 1-1 draw at home against the Philadelphia Union. Sporting KC will be missing key players who are away for international competition this weekend.
Center back Ike Opara could miss the match against RSL after suffering a concussion in the team's Open Cup quarterfinal against FC Dallas. Defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are with the U.S. men's national team in Gold Cup competition.
The absence of those players could result in an increased role for young center back Erik Palmer-Brown, who turned in an impressive performance in the Open Cup victory over FC Dallas on July 11.
"He was a monster," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said, according to MLSsoccer.com. "I was very, very proud of him. And the progression that he has made as a player is tremendous. He's playing very well."
Real Salt Lake has been hindered by a coaching change, injuries and the absence of international players, but the team has posted impressive victories in its last two MLS matches.
Real Salt Lake is coming off back-to-back road wins, the first time the team has won consecutive games on the road since May 2014. RSL outscored its opponents 10-3 in those two contests, beating the Los Angeles Galaxy 6-2 and the Portland Timbers 4-1.
"I'm thrilled to death," RSL coach Mike Petke told reporters following the victory over Portland, according to MLSsoccer.com. "We did a lot of speaking about this game building up to it, how we wanted to play, what it means as far as the remaining games and the standings. We broke down the points for us, what we were looking to get moving into the second half of the season, and we put everything together."
Joao Plata scored two goals in the win over Portland. Kyle Beckerman and Jake Gleeson also scored. Beckerman could be unavailable against Sporting KC after receiving a red card in the match against Portland, but the club was planning to appeal.