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LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake - Match Preview

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Well it might just be the biggest match of the year for Real Salt Lake, the home leg of the season series between the two teams.  The last time these two faced off it was a mistake on a set piece, and bad marking that left Edson Buddle open and gave LA a 2-1 just 4 days after RSL had gone 120 minutes in a US Open Cup qualifier.  Both sidew will need to find a new way to score as Buddle is gone with the USMNT, and Kyle Bekerman who scored the RSL goal is out with an injury.

Here is your chance to rewatch the highlights of that match:

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RSL had their chances and by no means were outplayed by LA.  So the rematch should be a very interesting affair, as LA has continued to go unbeaten with a 10-0-2 record, with an impressive +19 goal differential and just 3 goals allowed in 12 matches.  RSL at home is 4-0-1 with a +9 goal differential.  One of the key things that sticks out to me is the fact that LA has scored 12 of their 22 goals in the first 30 minutes of their matches, while RSL has scored 12 of their 21 in the first 45 minutes. 

The team that scores first is likely to win the match, as LA is 10-0-0 when scoring first and RSL is 6-1-0 when scoring first.  It is also interesting that neither team has been issued a PK, but RSL has given up 4 PK goals so far this year, LA none.

After the jump, Key Matchups, Wildcards, and my prediction:

Key Matchups

Donovan Ricketts vs. Nick Rimando

You know that being pulled from the MLS Cup match due to injury, and his team then loosing in a PK shootout has to haunt Ricketts to this day.  The matchup between these two is one of the prototype of a GK and one who has always exceeded expectations. Donovan is 6'4" 200 lbs of instincts and great reflexes, he has simply been one of the major game changers for LA since arriving.  Last year his GAA was 1.03 with 9 clean sheets in 26 matches, in the playoffs 0.74 with two more clean sheets.  This year he has gotten even better with an incredible 0.27 GAA and 8 clean sheets in 12 matches, clearly the prototype of what you would want in a goal keeper.

At 5' 9" and 184 lbs, Nick Rimando isn't what most people would expect to see in a MLS net, but with two MLS Cup Championship rings, Nick has never been about what others expect.   Last season his GAA was 1.13 in 26 matches, with 9 shut outs.  In the playoffs he dropped that to a 0.64 GAA and added two more shutouts.  This year Nick has posted a 1.00 GAA with just 3 shutouts, but most of that is on the collective defense and the league leading 4 PK's he has had to face.  Nick makes up for his lack of size with incredible reflexes and the ability to know what opposing teams are going to do, before they even know it. 

Remember that Ricketts has a career 1.67 GAA against RSL, he gave up two against them at Rio Tinto last year and two more against them in LA.  Last year Nick only played in one of the two regular season matches, he earned a clean sheet in the RSL 2-0 win in LA. Nick has a way of firing up the fans and getting them involved in the matches at Rio Tinto and has always performed well in front of the home town fans.  I have to give him a very slight edge in this matchup, only because the match will be played here in Salt Lake.  

#1 offense vs. #2 offense

If you just count the total of goals scored, then LA holds an edge of one.  If you count the goals per match average, then RSL holds a slight edge.  Either way you want to slice it the offenses of these two teams have excelled this year, with 22 (LA) and 21 (RSL) goals scored.  

LA's first 9 goals came from Edson Buddle and were convincing enough to get him back on the USMNT for the first time in almost a decade and in time for the World Cup, they have had a total of 11 players score goals for them.  Edson is gone and their next leading scorers are Jovan Kirovski with 3, and Tristan Bowen with 2, 8 others have a single goal.  One of the most interesting facts about LA this year is that fact that they have a +10 goal differential on the road, with 10 goals scored and 0 allowed.

Real Salt Lake has also had 11 players find the back of the net so far this season, lead by newcomer Alvaro Saborio with 5 goals (4 assists).  Following him are Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola with 3 each, both have missed matches due to injury.  Kyle Beckerman (who is out for this match) and defender Jamison Olave each have two goals and 6 others have a single goal, including Chris Wingert who found the back of the net for the first time in his MLS career a couple weeks ago against Chivas.  RSL have scored 14 of their 21 goals at Rio Tinto, and they have a plus 9 goal differential.

This one is clearly a draw for me as both teams have proven they can score, each team has only been held without a goal twice this year.

Knowns vs. Unkowns

If most MLS fans were to look at the probable lineups for this match, they would know who Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave, and Alvaro Saborio are, but I bet a good number fewer could tell you who Tristan Bowen, Michael Stephens, Alex Cazumba, or Chris Birchall are.  Maybe for LA that has been the key, if opposing teams don't know the players they are facing it is much harder to know what they can do, or are likely to do. 

The list for LA has a total of 31 MLS starts between them, while the RSL list has 173.  There is no doubt that both groups have made an impact this year, but for LA to have guys step up in such a huge way with the departure of Landon and Edson for the World Cup, speaks volumes about the ability of Bruce Arena to build a deep club and find talent.  The team simply hasn't missed a beat since those two left, very impressive.

For RSL they have endured a number of injuries that have had to be overcome, and while they aren't undefeated, only two teams have more wins than RSL despite those injuries, RSL has found themselves on the wrong end of a couple calls that have cost them points, and some very heavy schedule congestion has had them 3 matches in 7 days a couple times already this season.

I give a edge here, as the knowns have gotten that way by performing match in and match out, while the unkowns have shown skill, they have yet to prove if they can do it over the long haul of the MLS season.


The Missing

David Beckham, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Robbie Findley, and Edson Buddle, all will be missing from the match on Wednesday night.  Injuries, National Team duty, these things always have an impact on the matches, but with such a large group of high profile and high output players missing it clearly will impact the match.  Others will be missing, Dema Kovalenko, Leonardo, and Mick Magee are listed as questionable for LA, while Nelson Gonzalez will be out for RSL.  I have no doubt that this will still be a very exciting match, as I stated above two great offenses, two super keepers, how could it be anything less, but I will probably wonder all season long, what might have been, no matter the outcome "the missing" have already played a role.

Alvaro Saborio

It is hard to list Alavaro as a wildcard since he has become such a big part of the RSL offense, but will he rebound from a physical battle against DC United, the first match in over a month when he didn't score or get an assist?  The match against LA earlier this year was just his second start, he didn't get on the stat sheet in that one but not for a lack of trying.  LA has a good defense with decent size and speed, but they have some young guys that the World Cup veteran might be able to take advantage of.

The Galaxy Defense

I list them as a wildcard simply because I don't buy that the reason LA has only given up 3 goals has much to do with their defense.  I think it has to do with their midfield and their style of play, they push from the first minute to the last minute they push forward, they push with numbers, they push with speed and the reality is that most teams don't create many opportunities against them for that fact.  LA has taken 22 more shots than their opponents, and have had 20 more on goal, and that offensive barrage keeps other teams trying to hang on.  Now I do give their defense credit in one huge regard, they play the offside trap very well, they have caught opposing teams offside 58 times, RSL on the other hand has only caught opponents offside 15 times.  I don't doubt that the Galaxy offense will be able to score against RSL, but we have shown that we can score against them (we were the first team to so in their first 5 matches).  Keep your eyes open and arrive early, because this one could end up a real shootout.

My Prediction

I think this is going to be an exciting match, every player on both teams knows the importance of it, with time off over the next few weeks there is no excuse to not lay everything on the line in this one.  It is funny that if you ask Jason he will tell you that we match up well against the Galaxy, and he is right, just look at how the two match up:
ALL-TIME (16 meetings):
Real Salt Lake 5 wins, 25 goals
Galaxy 6 wins, 25 goals
Ties 5

AT SALT LAKE (7 meetings):
Real Salt Lake 2 wins, 12 goals 
Galaxy 1 wins, 11 goals
Ties 4

This one has the potential to be a huge scoring match, one of those 6 or 7 goal affairs, but I am going to say it won't get that out of hand as the keepers in this one are two of the best.

June 9th 2010:
Real Salt Lake 2
LA Galaxy 1