RSL facing long-shot leaders in LA Galaxy

George Frey - Getty Images

RSL, facing Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, is sure to be aware of the danger the reigning champions provide from distance.

It's often vaunted about that for any side, facing LA Galaxy means in particular facing fizzing shots from distance, such is the major threat posed by the reigning champions. As a side with fine strikers and distance shooters - particularly David Beckham and Juninho - this is probably quite a natural result.

In fact, Beckham leads the league in goals scored outside the box with 7, while Juninho is just behind with 5 - level with New York's Thierry Henry. Beckham, further, has only scored goals from outside the box season, and four of those have come from free kicks.

Let's wind it back a little. LA Galaxy have scored 54 goals this season, of which 16 have come from outside the box. It's the highest ratio in MLS at about 30 percent. Real Salt Lake is sitting a little further back in the table - six of their 44 have come from outside the box, or about 14 percent. It's a clear difference in playing style.

But Real Salt Lake has only conceded two of 34 goals from outside the box (about 6 percent), which is hardly the worst mark a side could have. The less defensively assured LA Galaxy have conceded only two, but they've also had 43 goals put against them for about 14 percent.

David Beckham and Juninho are clearly dangerous weapons, then - Beckham more from free kicks than the run of play - and it'll take some defensive prowess to sniff out those opportunities. But Real Salt Lake is clearly doing something right: They've conceded the second-fewest attempts from outside the box - but more importantly, they've conceded the fewest goals from outside, though they're tied with Philadelphia Union on that front.

We might ponder the reasons for both of those good records, and it would seem they're two-fold. First, Nick Rimando is perhaps the best keeper in the league at facing shots from distance, such are his shot-stopping abilities. Second, RSL has a strong midfield with an ability to quickly transition to defense (by and large, at least.) With Will Johnson, Ned Grabavoy and Kyle Beckerman all clogging central positions outside the box while defending, closing shots down becomes an easy task, and fewer shots overall are taken.

With Will Johnson coming into a fine vein of form, his influence is hardly up for debate, but the absence of Ned Grabavoy could provide decisive. Luis Gil, his replacement against Chivas, is hardly known as a defensively minded player, and though he's showing signs that he can operate on a two-way basis, he will need to be excruciatingly attentive to detail on Saturday.

Additionally, defenders stepping up will be of the utmost importance: With Jamison Olave back in the side, a more natural order - the push and pull of the Olave-Borchers (Borlave, if you will) tandem makes them one of the best partnerships in the league when both are at their best.

It's set to be a fascinating one: It's the best in scoring from outside the box against the best at defending those. Can Real Salt Lake defend against the Galaxy's long-shot mentality? Saturday awaits.

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