Over the past week or so, other than Ticket gate, one of the main talking points of this weekend's MLS Cup final has been the difference in style of play between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. A lot of talk has been made of Sporting's "thugish" style against Salt Lake's more beautiful style of play.
The comments come mainly from the fact that KC led the league in fouls with 511, 46 more than the next closest team. And from the fact that KC finished the season with the top two players in terms of yellow card accumulation (Aurelien Collin 13, Oriol Rosell 10). Meanwhile, people praise RSL and the way that they play. Fans make mention of the fact that they led the league in possession (although KC finished second). And today in the Central Winger it was shown just how many passes they average in possession that lead to shots. They kill the league in this stat.
And while it's hard to argue the numbers, they're against the entire league. When the two teams meet does the style of play change? KC's earned some of the thug comments that they get for their style of play, but when SKC and RSL meet, it's KC's style that becomes prevalent.
To get an idea of how the two teams play against each other, I think you have to go back to the 2011 preseason, when a game between KC and Salt Lake ended early after a tackle by Roger Espinoza on Javier Morales led to a confrontation between the teams. Since then, a rivalry on the field has developed between the two teams.
In those match ups, the games have been more physical as the teams have generally felt more physical than their other games they've played.. Back in 2011 in the two games they played, each team committed 30 total fouls (15 per game average), KC picked up two yellows and a red card, while Salt Lake picked up four yellows. Compared to the rest of the season, that was almost three fouls more per game for KC (12.3 average in the other 33 games) and just over 2 less per game for RSL. The red card in that game went to Roger Espinoza for a poor challenge from behind on Kyle Beckerman.
This year, the match up again featured deviations from the norms in their match up. RSL picked up 4 yellow cards, including two to Chris Wingert, doubling their average over the course of the rest of the season. Basically, what I'm saying is that while RSL may play a "prettier game" than Sporting during the season, their style changes, and I expect it to happen on Saturday.