Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake meet Sunday in Kansas for a place in the MLS Western Conference final, bringing together the same teams in the same location again less than a month after a dramatic regular season finale.
Visiting Salt Lake won that clash 1-0 on Nov. 7 on Damir Kreilach's goal in second-half stoppage time, clinching the seventh and final playoff spot.
Moments before Kreilach's winner, an apparent handball in the penalty area on RSL defender Justen Glad went unspotted and unreviewed. And after the game, the league's Profession Referee Organization issued a statement acknowledging match officials had erred in not using replay review.
Had the foul been called, the resulting penalty kick might have propelled Kansas City to a home win, the top spot in the West and a first-round bye.
"We're totally over that," manager Peter Vermes insisted after SKC finished third and had to play Vancouver in the first round. "That has nothing to do with any of this now. The season ended. We had to move on. We did."
Kansas City was dominant in its 3-1 win over Vancouver last week. Graham Zusi had a goal and an assist from his right back position, Khiry Shelton and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin also scored, while leading regular season scorer Daniel Salloi had two assists.
But SKC also comes in with high expectations. Salt Lake is burdened by essentially none, despite winning both regular-season meetings.
Part of that stems from the fact the club is currently being managed by the league while it tries to find a new ownership group for the club. And part of it comes from the first-round triumph on penalties over the Seattle Sounders following a 0-0 draw, in which Seattle outshot Salt Lake 21-0.
"At this point it's house money, you know?" Glad said. "We really can't do any wrong right now. If we lose, everyone expected us to not even make playoffs. If we win, it's an amazing story."
Albert Rusnak, RSL's assist leader (11) and second-leading scorer (11 goals), missed the Seattle game because of the league's health and safety protocols and is again out against Kansas City.
Kreilach led Real Salt Lake in scoring with 16 goals.
--Field Level Media