Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy - gut check match preview

SANDY, UT - MARCH 26: Javier Morales #11 of Real Salt Lake takes a shot on goal as A. J. DeLaGarza #20 and goalie Josh Saunders #12 of the Los Angeles Galaxy defends during the first half of an MLS soccer game March 26, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

For RSL this has been a strange season, the year started out on such a high note of 4 straight MLS wins, advancing to the Champions League final, but perhaps all the success came with a price as the team has struggled at times this year.  Yes things like injuries, busy schedule, and other factors all play a part but the reality is simple, RSL is 15-9-6 and while the number of wins is equal to where they were after 30 matches last year, the 9 losses is more than double the total of 4 from 2010.  Gone is the home undefeated streak of 2010 with 11-0-4 and in is 10-3-3, and before you get upset realize that no team has won more than 10 matches at home this year in MLS action and only one team is undefeated at home.  So can RSL do something to make people understand how special the home winning streak was last year, can they beat LA at the Home Depot Center to hand them their first home loss of the season?

If you look back at the last 3 years in MLS no two teams have been more dominant than RSL and LA, in 2009 the Galaxy finished a point behind Columbus in the battle for the Supporters Shield, and when the playoff dust settled the two teams faced off in MLS Cup.  In 2010 the teams finished 1 and 2 in the regular season but both were beat by FC Dallas in the playoffs, and now this year they are number 1 and number 3 in the MLS standings.  However RSL has kinda owned LA these last 3 years and LA is one of the few teams that RSL can say they the edge on since joining MLS. RSL is 7-6-5 against LA and 3-5-1 at the Home Depot Center, both teams have secured playoff positions and in the middle of busy stretches of action.  For RSL making up matches from earlier in the year and for LA trying to advance to the knockout rounds of the Champions League.  This should be a marquee matchup for the league and should be an exciting one as both teams have a lot on the line, for the Galaxy a win secures them the 2011 Supporters' Shield, for RSL a measure of self respect after back to back blow out losses to inferior teams.

My Key Match Up, Wildcards, and Prediction after the jump:

Key Match Up:

RSL's defense vs. RSL's defense -

Real Salt Lake has given up 30 goals this season, 15 in the last two months, and 10 in September.  It seems the defense that gave up just 2 goals in their first 8 matches while keeping 6 clean sheets is gone, the team has just 3 clean sheets in their last 10 matches.  Now there have been injuries, suspensions, and various other issues but the reality is the key to what made RSL a dominant force in the league over the last couple seasons has been the work done on the defensive side of the ball.

This is no issue where you can blame a players, or even the backline, RSL has built their style of play and their ability to win off of everyone plays defense.  It is the core of the "team is the star" mentality, but lately it hasn't been happening.  It is hard to focus on defense first when you give up early goals, RSL has now given up 12 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches, compared to 6 for LA.  When giving up the first goal RSL is 0-7-2 and for the first time this year RSL is going to be facing a team that on paper has a better defense and better offense than they do. So this will truly be a gut check for each and every player on the team, this is their chance against the team with the best offense to prove that we can still dominate a match by playing defense.

It will be no easy task, LA has some of the best offensive players in the league, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel (oh wait they sent him across the hall), Robbie Keane, they also have Chad Barrett, Mike Magee, and Juninho all of who are very dangerous with the ball.  RSL will be missing a couple of key pieces, Kyle Beckerman will be gone after his silly headbutt on Wednesday, but perhaps even more important will be Tony Beltran.  You might be asking why I would say that, let me be really clear if you go back to the success that RSL has had the last couple years against LA, a big part of it has been the ability of Tony Beltran to keep Landon Donovan in check.  Neither played a big role in the match earlier this year, but I can't tell you how many times I have been so impressed at Tony's ability to simply take Landon out of plays and matches, a combination of matching his speed and being smart enough to anticipate what Landon is going to do.  It will be interesting to see who is assigned the task of minding Landycakes on Saturday night.

Wildcards:

Yordany Alvarez -

Well in two matches we have seen the Yordany he has shown that MLS doesn't intimidate him, the reviews have been mixed by some but I see more positive than negative and he will have his hands full if he is the player chosen to fill the shoes of the suspended Kyle Beckerman.  I think as he learns the habits and preferences of his new teammates we will see him improve but when facing David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Juninho, Mike Magee and Paolo Cardozo it will be enough just to keep your head above water, but more than that will be expected.

Mike Magee -

So lost in all they headlines of MLS Cup and most everything since then for LA  has been Mike Magee, but his 5 goals is tied for second best on the team.  He also despite playing just 390 minutes against RSL has 2 goals, nobody has a better goal to minute ration for the Galaxy other than David Beckham.  RSL fans should remember that Mike is the guy who scored the goal against us in MLS Cup.  He isn't flashy but just a hard working guy who often finds himself in dangerous positions because everyone is focused on the big names.

Kevin Stott -

So my only hope is that we will see a match that is officiated like MLS Cup 2009, the last time Kevin Stott was in charge of a match between these two teams.  There have been a lot of rumors about Stott over the years, but when he called perhaps one of the best matches I have seen from an official at MLS Cup, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.  He has officiated 210 MLS matches, calls an average of 25.8 fouls per match, issues 3.4 yellows per match and has pointed to the PK spot 43 times and issued 57 red cards.  I am really hoping that unlike so many matches in the league this year that the official doesn't play a role in the final result.

My Prediction:

Well you just don't know which RSL team is going to show up anymore, one week they look like they are back to being a dominant force in the league, and then they end up being Dwayne De Rosario and Marco Pappa's playthings.  RSL showed early in the year with their match with LA, and just a couple weeks ago against New York that if they can get an early goal they can simply take a team out of the match.  LA has just 9 goals in the first 30 minutes of matches, while RSL have scored 14 in the first 30 minutes.  

This like almost every match in MLS will likely come down to the first goal scored. LA is 15-0-4 when scoring first, 2-3-2 when giving up the first goal, and RSL is 15-2-1 when scoring first and 0-7-2 when giving up the first goal. For RSL to get a win they will need an effort similar to what they did the first time these teams faced off this year, early goals and then solid passing.

I have never picked up RSL to lose a match, it just isn't in my nature but to think given the last 7 days and what RSL has looked like in their two matches I have a hard time picking them to win, but perhaps the theory that RSL plays better when they have a chip on their shoulder, when they are the underdog, when nobody expects much of them. Well guys that is exactly what the situation is going into this match.  LA has gotten wins in their last two matches in the final minutes and I think this match will probably be tied 1-1 going into the final 10 minutes of the match, then it will simply be a question of who if anyone will step up and claim the victory for their team.

My RSL Starting XI: Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Andy Williams, Will Johnson, Luis Gil, Ned Grabavoy, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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