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Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy (match preview)

RSL vs LA Match Quick Reference
RSL vs LA Match Quick Reference

5-5-5, with only a single goal difference between the two teams, 4-3-1 both teams with 12 goals when playing at the Home Depot Center, and of course 120 minutes tied 1-1 and PK's to decide the MLS Cup Champions last November. That is what you get when you match up Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy, two teams that seem to match up very well against each other.  This year it is the LA Galaxy who are the hottest team in MLS off to 3 straight wins, while RSL are 1-1-1, but their paths to this point of the year couldn't be different.

LA has played 2 of 3 at home, RSL 2 of 3 on the road,  LA's 5 goals have all come from Edson Buddle, while RSL's 6 goals have come from 4 different players.  RSL has also found a way to score from more dangerous position, last year only 4 goals were scored outside of the area, but this year 1/3 of their early goals have come from outside of the area. For LA, all 5 of their goals have come from inside the box.

Both teams made some off season moves, RSL resigned a number of  players, traded Clint Mathis to LA,  drafted Warner and Schuler, picked up McKenzie off waivers, got Luis Gil in a trade with KC, and picked up Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio.  LA, did well to keep their core from last year together adding; Mathis, Michael Stephens, and their 3 Brazilians (Juninho, Leonardo, and Alex Cazumba), but change has happened in LA and you only need to look at the fact that Chris Klein hasn't seem a minute of action in 2010.

The rest of my match preview after the jump:

Well for RSL this will be an interesting challenge as they have 6 guys(Reynish, Borchers, McKenzie, Johnson, Alexandre, and Findley) who went the full 120 minutes on Wednesday night, plus Russell who played 90.  This as well as a couple injuries impacts both our starting 11 and our bench.  Ned Grabavoy is out with his MCL sprain, I also don't expect RSL to push Morales or Wingert who both have muscle strains and I would be surprised if either are in the 18 man roster.  That likely will push Nelson Gonzalez, who has looked like a star in the making in his limited minutes, and Andy Williams who is one of the creative masterminds behind last years playoff run.  I expect that Robbie Findley will come off the bench after playing the full 120 but Espindola and Saborio are more than capable of pushing the LA defense around.  

Key Matchups

Buddle & Donovan vs. RSL backline -

With Winger out, we will see Tony Beltran back in the starting 11, and for me that is a great thing as you only have to look back to last year as Tony was a crucial part of the coverage of Landon.  I expect that Buddle won't find himself alone in the box this week, instead it will be Olave and Borchers keeping an eye on him.  If RSL can limit the touches and shots by Buddle and Landycakes, it will be up to someone else to provide the offense and so far this year nobody has stepped up for the Galaxy.  In fact no Galaxy member has more than 4 shots with the exception of Buddle, so if you can shut him down you force LA to change how they play.

Nelson Gonzalez & Fabian Espindola vs. Sean Franklin & A.J DeLaGarza -

None of these 4 are big guys but they all have speed and talent, a good portion of the RSL attack will come from these two guys and it will be a real test to see if the young Galazxy defenders will be able to keep the duo from Argentina from being able to create chances.  If Fabi can force the LA defenders to come out to shut down his runs, it will open up space in the middle for Saborio who proved last week to be very dangerous in the area.  4 young and exciting players will be one of the things that I watch closely during this matchup.

Rimando vs. Ricketts -

One would look at the 0.00 GAA average of Donovan Ricketts and think that he holds a real advantage but  when LA got their two last minute goals at Rio Tinto last year it was Chris Seitz in goal as Rimando was out with an injury. When the two teams matched up at the HDC last year it was Rimando in goal and he walked out with a clean sheet as RSL got a 2-0 win, their first road win of the 2009 season.  The rubber match of last year was the MLS Cup, and both keepers gave up a single goal and then it was the injury that took RIcketts out of extra time and the PK shootout.  Lifetime Ricketts has a 2.00 GAA against RSL, while Nick has a 1.67 GAA against the Galaxy since coming to RSL.

Wildcards

Fatigue -

For RSL playing their 3rd match in 7 days is tough enough, but with the US Open Cup qualifying match going into extra time and then PK's it means a lot of guys could run out of gas late in the match.  Look for RSL's head coach to hold onto his subs until a little later than usual, in order to replace anyone who shows signs of fatigue.  The good part of the weeks matches are that both are in California so the travel hasn't been as impactful as it could have been on the fitness and sharpness of Real Salt Lake.

Mike Magee -

I know a lot of attention has gone to Buddle since the season started, and before the start of the season the talk was would Landon come back from Everton and about the Brazilians. For me one of the dangerous things about LA is Mike Magee, he came over from the Red Bulls team that made MLS Cup in 2008 and he was the guy who found the back of the net for LA in the Cup match last November.  Magee has two goals off of seven shots in his 321 career minutes against RSL, if RSL can keep Buddle off the scoreboard it may be Magee who steps up.

Controversy in the stands -

All week long issues have been going on between the ACB (Angel City Brigade), the Galaxy Staff, and the security and operations people at the HDC.  There were some issues after their last home match against Chivas USA, and it sounded like several new restrictions would be placed on the ACB, they in turn were planning some type of protest from the stands.  However if the information on the ACB website is correct, it sounds like everything has been dealt with and all sides are moving forward as if nothing happened.  You never know what can or will happen with supporter groups, so there could be some distractions from the stands in LA tonight.

Prediction -

Listen if you had told most fans that RSL would start the season with 4 of 5 matches on the road, and 4 of 5 matches against 2009 playoff teams, you would think that coming out of it with 4 points would be almost acceptable, but this isn't the old RSL of 2007 that would quit when down, this isn't the 2008 or 2009 team that doesn't think they can win on the road.  This is the 2010 Real Salt Lake, they expect to win every match and they won't quit fighting, they came back last weekend to get a 93rd minute goal against Seattle to get a result, they came back in extra time on Wednesday against San Jose to tie the match and force a PK shootout.  This is a team that does very well in LA 3-4-1. and you have to believe given their past of doing fairly well at the HDC (the site of their first road win each year from 2005 to 2009) that the expectation is to stop the winning streak of the Galaxy and separate themselves from the 1-1-1 pack in the Western Conference standings.

I want to pick RSL to win this match 2-1, but I am going to pick a 1-1 draw as the injuries and fatigue keep RSL from the win.

OFF MY SOAPBOX