This Saturday sees the final of the 2013 MLS Cup with Sporting Kansas City taking on Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park in Kansas City. Both teams came through their Conference Final games relatively unscathed. Sporting KC effectively dispensed with Houston Dynamo whilst Real Salt Lake comfortably beat Portland Timbers.
In order to get a better idea of how the game might pan out, we used the statistics at our disposal to look at these two teams. We looked at their respective stats from the Conference Semi-Final and Conference Final games. It goes without saying that play-off games always add an extra level of stress which does impact on the style of play adopted by the teams. In fact, both Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake needed extra time to overcome their respective opponents in the Conference Semi-Finals.
Starting off with Sporting KC, we saw that they like to control the game with extended possession of the ball and had more live ball possession than that of their opponents. As a result of having a lot of possession, they are involved in significantly more attacking events, this being plays that the teams uses to move up the field and into a position whereby they would be in a situation to stand a chance at getting a shot on goal.
When looking at the attacks on their opponent’s goal, they make good use of crosses to get the ball into the opposition 18-yard box. This could be a key point in Saturday’s final as Real Salt Lake are quite susceptible to crosses, having allowed their opponents to send in almost 40 crosses per game in the four games that we looked at.
Sporting KC also prefer to apply pressure on their opponent and thus force the opposition defenders into making mistakes. Now it is not just about forcing the error, but they manage to capitalize on these mistakes by improving their situation. They also make use of the long throw in to some effect with 46% of their long throw ins leading to the team being in an improved situation and in a position to take a chance at a shot on goal. Given Real Salt Lake’s weakness at preventing crosses into the danger area, this could also be a telling factor on Saturday.
When it comes to actual shots on goal, Sporting KC may have had 17.5 shots on goal per game and 10 of them were either remotely dangerous or dangerous. From these shots on goal though, they only managed to score 1.3 goals per game.
As for Real Salt Lake, whilst they may not have controlled possession nor had as many chances on goal as their opponents, they did make greater use of the chances that they had. It would seem that they are happy to let their opponents have more of the ball, catching the opposition out on the counter.
Out of the 13.5 shots that they had on goal per game, 6 of them were either just off target, blocked by a defender or saved by the keeper. They did, however, manage to score 1.8 goals per game from these shots.
When looking at the source of their attacks, we saw that they were very dangerous when it came to set pieces, particularly with Javier “El maestro” Morales who generally takes the set pieces for Real Salt Lake. They scored 3 goals from set pieces in the four games leading up to the final. This should also be a good battle to watch on Saturday as Sporting KC have one of the best defences in the MLS and are quite adept at defending set pieces.
From the stats, it would appear that Sporting KC are the better team. Their style of play of holding onto the ball and directing play will suit Real Salt Lake who will, based on the stats, look to hit on the counter and make use of set pieces. Sporting KC’s defence has proven to be very good at dealing with such threats but Real Salt Lake have also shown that they make the most of their chances on goal too so the Sporting KC defence will need to be alert when Real Salt Lake have the ball. One thing that is for certain is that it should be an interesting battle on Saturday afternoon!