MLS Cup 2013: Strength in Goalkeepers and Midfielders

The team is of utmost importance, but specific players are key to Final success
by Katherine Rupp   |   Wednesday, December 04, 2013

John Hefti Photography - Sporting KC, MLS

It’s come down to this.

Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City play in a just a handful of days to see who hoists the MLS Cup trophy and John Madden’s famous, “Usually the team that scores the most points wins,” quote will come in handy for the MLS Final.

Both teams are raring to go for the Final, and with 16 meetings between the clubs since RSL’s addition into MLS, the match up is as intriguing for fans of both teams as it is for soccer supporters in general. Neither team has the flashiest of players or the most exciting, but with some of the best players in MLS, this Final has the makings of what successful regular and playoff seasons look like.

No doubt, the teams will look great, but what individuals will make the difference in this year’s MLS Cup Final?

Keep an eye on the goalkeepers and the midfielders.

Goalkeepers

Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen and Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando might be the two best performing goalkeepers, year over year. While the Dane and the California-born keepers have made large impacts on their respective teams this year, they each hope to lead from the endline on up the field.

While Nielsen – who is also SKC’s captain – was named 2012’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and included in the MLS Best XI that same year, he will have to be the best between the posts compared to the talented Rimando, who in his own right has been a beast this year.

Keep in mind while watching the Final that during the 2013 MLS regular season, Rimando and Nielsen had similar seasons when it came to the difference between minutes played, saves, and goals against. Rimando finished the regular season after playing 2430 minutes with 82 saves and 28 goals against while Nielsen ended with 3060 minutes, 68 saves and 30 goals against.

If, and possibly when, the Final comes down to penalties, the most focused goalie will show the mental acuity for the win. However, with the Final being featured in front of home fans, look to Nielsen to come up in the clutch and come away with the Cup.

Midfielders

With 2 weeks in between both the Western and Eastern Conference Finals and the MLS Cup Final, time has proven vital to both teams, especially for the players who have picked up a few knocks here and there, and the R&R is of importance to the midfield players – of both teams – to be prepared for this Final. And this midfield battle is the part of the Park that is a ‘need to watch’ on Saturday. 

The infamous diamond midfield that RSL deploys is always a dangerous threat to the most seasoned players on an opposing team, but SKC looks to thwart the Kyle Beckerman-led Salt Lake mid by sending out some of the best in MLS. When Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil and Javier Morales are on the field, they become a well-oiled machine and Kansas City will need to have aggressive and smart play to frustrate the Salt Lake middle.

The offensive-minded RSL diamond was the catalyst for breaking down teams, like the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Finals. That intelligent play from the KC midfield will be grounded by oftentimes the unsung workhorse but a Final newbie, Uri Rosell. The man who’s got his groove back from a dip in form earlier this season – Benny Feilhaber – also joins the Catalan Rosell in the midfield, along with, depending on whether Vermes has the US National Team player at forward or midfield, either 1) one of the MLS Best XI, Graham Zusi or 2) Paulo Nagamura, a workhorse who never stops and is also one of the baddest looking bandage wearers since Nelly.

The midfields of SKC and RSL are of utmost importance and what could possibly win the game. The daunting, fast-paced style RSL play will be a great match up for KC’s defensive midfield work of Rosell, the grittiness of Nagamura, and the finesse of Feilhaber; so pay attention soccer fans: this will be a good one.

Roll out the Sporting blue carpet

At home, Kansas City’s overall record against Real Salt Lake is 5-1-2 with 12 goals for and 7 goals against. With those stats in mind, and knowing that the KC defense is one of the best in the league, it’s possible SKC will hammer in the 2-0-1-3 on the wall at Sporting Park under the MLS Champion list.

In addition to the strong and intelligent midfield of Sporting Kansas City, one of the best defenses in the league two years running, and the ability of the midfielders and forwards to make plays that turn into shots on goals from – oftentimes – out of nothing, this year’s Kansas City team look to turn their savviness into success through MLS Cup Final victory.

NEXT UP: December 7 - MLS Cup Final: Sporting Kansas City v. Real Salt Lake, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan., 4 p.m. EST, ESPN.

Katherine RUPP

Nationality:
USA
College:
Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.
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