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Sandy • While Real Salt Lake players and coaches are downplaying the significance of their top-of-the-table clash with unblemished Sporting KC on Saturday it's too early in the season to assign too much importance, they say they certainly are not lacking for admiration.
Defender Nat Borchers said SKC has "dominated everybody else in the league this year," and credited the team with building on its season last year, while coach Jason Kreis said Sporting might be the "deepest team in the league" that puts a lot of pressure on opponents.
"It's an interesting team," Kreis said. "I thought they were very interesting last year, and I remember making note of it and talking about how difficult they can be to play against."
Sporting is 5-0-0 this season the only unbeaten and untied team in Major League Soccer after finishing 13-9-12 to win the MLS Eastern Conference last season, while RSL is 5-1-0, having won both of its first two road games for the first time in its eight-season history.
"I remember seeing them play," Borchers said, "and seeing how many numbers they push forward, how dominant they are at home, and how physical they are, and thinking, 'Wow, this is a good team.' So I think they're just building on what they already had."
Not only has Sporting KC allowed just one goal so far this season, it has not even allowed a shot on goal in a league-record 245 minutes.
"It's a very disruptive team," Kreis said. "They put a lot of players in your half of the field, and don't allow you to play. Or try not to allow you to play, which can be difficult for us, because we like to knock the ball around and we like to have possession for long stretches."
The team has signed defender Chris Estridge to a four-year contract after a several-week trial, and made room for him on the roster by releasing second-round draft pick Diogo de Almeida. The team had to trade a conditional draft pick next year to Vancouver for the rights to Estridge.
Estridge is also a rookie, chosen just three picks ahead of de Almeida in the most recent MLS SuperDraft, by the Whitecaps. But Kreis said the team believes he is better developed at this point, which is important because RSL will need him to play outside back when the schedule gets crowded.
"It's a huge relief," Estridge said. "Just finally getting somewhere is huge."
Midfielder Javier Morales trained lightly Wednesday, as he recovers from a strained hamstring suffered against Montreal last week. Kreis said Morales is "50-50" to be available against Sporting, but Ned Grabavoy probably still will be out recovering from a dislocated rib.
Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC
P Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
TV • CW30