"I think it's a high-profile game this time because it's a rematch of the final game of last season," said RSL GM Garth Lagerwey. "In the NFL, it would occupy the same status."
The rivalry between these two sides still white-hot after a week of comments from both sides voicing their respective opinions on the other is kicked into gear once again as RSL tries to find itself on the winning side against SKC for the first time since 2011. RSL is 1-4-0 against Sporting Kansas City since 2011 and is trying to reverse its fortunes on the road in its third road match of the season.
"We don't have rivalries with teams that aren't good," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "It seems like the better teams in the league, we have good rivalries with. You're not going to hate a team that you're always beating."
And with one of the more memorable and in RSL's case particularly heart-wrenching finishes in the 2013 MLS Cup final, a match that decided the league's champion on the 20th penalty kick, there will be no lack of incentive. Much like entering the Week 4 matchup with Toronto FC and its hype around several signings, RSL could embrace an edge it seemed to play with in the 3-0 trouncing of TFC.
"You're always looking for something to spur you on or motivate you, but with this group, they push themselves so much that some things help a little bit," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. "But it's a hungry group. It's a motivated group it's motivated to get back to where they were last year. But do to that, you've got to take it game by game, and I think they do that."
RSL, unbeaten in 2014 at 2-0-2, sits near the top of the Western Conference table while SKC, 2-1-1, has faced a similarly difficult early-season schedule.
While Sporting dropped its season opener 1-0 at Seattle, it earned points against West-leading FC Dallas, beat San Jose and Colorado in back-to-back weeks after being eliminated in CONCACAF Champions League by Mexican club Cruz Azul.
And like 2013, RSL will face the usual suspects at Sporting Park. Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer and Sal Zizzo pace the SKC attack, while Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin man the back line.
Borchers said he anticipates the same style and same team RSL is familiar with.
"What struck me the most is how they keep fighting," he said.
While rivalry chatter dominated pre-match headlines, Lagerwey said this matchup could be affected by Wednesday night's U.S.-Mexico international friendly in Arizona where Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, Besler and Zusi all went 60-plus minutes, while RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando went the full 90 in the 2-2 draw. Luis Gil was on the bench, but didn't see any time.
Teammates for a few days, rivals few days later.
"Kansas City is the defending champ," Lagerwey said. 'They've proven it, they've done it. Those are the places where we want to be and what we want to accomplish. We need to dethrone them get there."
A result at Sporting Park would help that cause.
Real Salt Lake at Sporting K.C.
P Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4