A year ago, the MLS Cup Final marked the end of an era. The great David Beckham chapter of Major League Soccer history had come to a resounding close, with the global icon lifting the Cup for the second time in two years. The now famous image of David Beckham and Landon Donovan each holding their half of the trophy must have been exactly what Tim Lieweke and AEG pictured when they made the biggest acquisition in league history.
A year later the final will feature no David Beckham, no Landon Donovan, no Robbie Keane, not even a Thierry Henry or Clint Dempsey. In many ways, the 2013 MLS Cup Final is a perfect glimpse of the league after Beckham, and that isn't such a bad thing. Both Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake are solid examples of the kind of squads that are generally successful in the league. They are both sound defensively, well organized and have a hardworking ensemble for their key players, none of whom are superstars.
In this regard it is the perfect MLS showcase, pitting debatably its two best clubs in a match being played at one of the league's premier venues. Sporting Kansas City come in as the favourites, an attribute exponentially aided by the fact that they will be hosting the game at Sporting Park. While their offensive abilities do not stand out especially, Kansas boasts the best backline in the league. Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin headline the crew who, in front of the stellar Jimmy Neilson's goal, allowed only 30 goals during the regular season. The team enters the final having at long last overcome the mental and literal barrier that was the Houston Dynamo, who ended KC's cup hope in both of the last two seasons.
Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, are the perfect underdogs. Before the season they were supposed to be rebuilding: Will Johnson had left for Portland, Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave to the New York Red Bulls. But by the time the club was dominating Johnson and rest of his new Portland Timbers' teammates in the Western Conference final, they had shifted the narrative from rebuild to triumph. In winning 5-2 on aggregate, RSL also proved that they possessed the ability to defeat a favourite, and do so in style. After proving the experts wrong all year they need only to do so once more to be crowned MLS Champions for the second time in five years.
The main key to this matchup will be the heavily compelling midfield battle. This will almost certainly be Kansas City's main source of offense, as they have no consistent goalscorers provided Claudio Bieler starts the game on the bench as he has done throughout these playoffs. Graham Zusi, and the resurgent Benny Feilhaber lead a unit that will undoubtedly be relied upon to carry the team to victory. On the other side of the park is the bread and butter of Real Salt Lake, their compact and effective midfield unit led by MLS legend Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales. They will look to stop any sort of KC attack while making their opposition's renowned defense earn their reputation.
But the final trump card for Sporting Kansas City could be the simple fact that the game is being played at their home stadium. As a general rule the away team is the underdog in just about every MLS match, but in this contest the issue has deeper routes than that. If the game were to be contested at Rio Tinto Stadium it is unlikely that KC would be favourites. Home field advantage has been a huge factor for RSL historically, and this season was no different as they have only three four games there all year. Away from home is different, as they have only won six.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Sporting Kansas City (a.e.t)