Small-market teams set for battle in MLS title game

Thu Dec 5, 2013 1:44pm EST
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(Reuters) - Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City will bring none of the pizzazz to Saturday's Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup final that the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls could offer.

But the small market teams do offer proof that the MLS model built on a modest salary cap and competitive balance is working, adding weight to commissioner Don Garber's boast that MLS will be considered among the world's best soccer league's by 2022.

MLS's 18th championship game will be played in frigid temperatures in a quaint state-of-the-art stadium in Kansas City that seats less than 20,000 people in the American Midwest far away from the mainstream media hubs.

With no marquee names such as the Red Bulls' Thierry Henry or Galaxy's Robbie Keane to focus on, the spotlight will instead fall on two teams with contrasting styles.

"My opinion it's going to be one of the best finals played, two of the better teams in MLS," Kansas City defender and U.S. national team member Matt Besler told ESPN. "It doesn't have the big names in the league but that doesn't matter to us.

"It's two very deserving teams, two under the radar soccer cities."

Having finished with a better regular season record, Sporting will enjoy home-field advantage and the rabid support of a soccer-mad city that already hosted the MLS All-Star game and a U.S. men's World Cup qualifier this year.

It will mark the third time Kansas City has played for the MLS championship having won the title in 2000 when the team was known as the Kansas City Wizards and losing in the final four years later.

"This is a team that has figured out how to get it right," praised Garber. "They have figured it out on the field and have convinced us and everybody in the North American soccer community that Kansas City is one of the great soccer towns in North America.   Continued...

Dec 3, 2013; New York, NY, USA; MLS commissioner Don Garber speaks about the state of the league at Google Offices. Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports