Well it is week one of the Major League Soccer season and the most anticipated matchup will be RSL at LA, and how this one didn't end up on national TV is a mystery to everyone (I am willing to bet that since LA has CCL matches before and after it, that moving the match to Sunday's NBC Sports slot was an issue). Still the rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup and the 2011 Western Conference final should be an exciting one and a great early season test for both teams and will give RSL fans a chance to check out the new coverage on ABC 4 on Saturday night, the pre game show starts at 8pm, the match at 8:30.
It has been funny thinking back about the last RSL match of 2011, the 3-1 loss to the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in the Western Conference final, a match that many people picked as one of the most exciting ones of the 2011 season, and some simply considered it the real MLS Cup. Houston had something to say about that, a couple of weeks later. It was an exciting match and we can only wonder what might have been if both sides had been 100% healthy for the match, something we won't find out this weekend either as both sides are dealing with injuries that will keep some big names out of the starting lineups.
For LA they will be missing: FW Adam Cristman (concussion); DF Omar Gonzalez (L knee surgery); MF Bryan Jordan (L hamstring strain); and DF Leonardo (R knee surgery). The RSL injury report looks like this: OUT: MF Will Johnson (R adductor strain); DOUBTFUL: DF Nat Borchers (L quadriceps strain); DF Chris Wingert (facial laceration); QUESTIONABLE: MF Javier Morales (R quadriceps strain); FW Álvaro Saborío (R knee internal injury); and MF Jonny Steele (L knee internal injury). I doubt any of them will make the start but I think Javier and Sabo could see some action.
After the jump I will give you my key match up, wildcards, and my fearless match prediction:
Key Match Up:
Robbie Keane & Edson Buddle vs. Jamison Olave & Chris Schuler -
If there was a match up in MLS that could be billed as "the clash of the titans" it would be this one, yes it would be a bit more epic with a healthy Nat Borchers, but make no mistake that Chris Schuler is up to the task and then some. On the other side is there now a more dominant offensive duo than Keane and Buddle? The quality of service from Landon Donovan and David Beckham is incredible and has been and now with two lethal strikers up top, the Galaxy might just score 100 goal this season.
We have to remember that Edson Buddle has scored 9 goals against RSL in his career, those goals have come in 12 matches and 803 minutes of play, which makes him a very dangerous player when facing RSL. Still if you look at the last 3 years of regular season matches between the two teams it has been interesting that while LA has won 2 of the 3 matches at the Home Depot Center, each team has scored 4 goals with the two LA wins coming in 2-1 victories.
The difference between these two in recent years has been defending on set pieces, something RSL usually is good at, they allowed just 5 goals from direct or indirect free kicks last year. The Galaxy scored 9 of their 48 goals from such plays last year, so the key is to not commit fouls in dangerous places and give LA a chance to add to that total early this year. It will be an interesting test for both of these groups of players, and we should see a classic match up as these players do battle on Saturday night.
Sebastian Velasquez -
This is the first time that I remember Jason Kreis starting a rookie in the first game of the year, but due to some injuries and the performance in the pre-season that is what is likely to happen. Still everyone who has seen him play has been impressed, we know that it takes time to adjust to the MLS style of play. When I hear players excited about seeing the skill set and creativity that he has, it gets me excited about the possibilities. Having seen the LA defense have some struggles on Wednesday in their CCL match dealing with quick, creative players well it might just be a chance @TiaN_Futbol shine on the MLS stage.
Mike Magee -
I know some people think I am crazy but I think Mike Magee is a big part of the glue that keeps what the LA Galaxy does on the pitch from coming apart at the seems. There is a lot of talent on the pitch at all times with LA, but with the focus often on others it is Mike Magee who find the little spaces, the unguarded places, at the right times to make a huge difference in the biggest matches. RSL has seen it before from him, just flash back to the 2009 MLS Cup where his goal gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead or his game winner against RSL last year in the Western Conference Final. There are just some players who you don't think about when you talk LA Galaxy, Mike Magee is one of those, which is why he is my wildcard for this match.
Kevin Stott -
You know when I saw his name listed as the head official the very first thing that flashed into my mind was MLS Cup 2009, now Kevin didn't do a bad job that night in Seattle, I am still confused how David Beckham didn't get a card for his tackle that took out Javier Morales but that was then and this is now. With the implementation of PRO, the new powers given to the MLS Disciplinary Committee, and the red card review system, one hopes that all the officials will be much more detailed oriented in how they do their jobs. Still given the track record of MLS officials, I do still have to list them as wildcards as the 2012 season starts.
In almost all MLS matches the key is to get the first goal, how important is it? Well LA was 16-0-4 when scoring first, and RSL was 0-8-2 when giving up the first goal. I think a couple of things were clear in the LA 2-2 draw with TFC in Champions League action on Wednesday, first is that without Omar Gonzalez they lack enough size to cover opposing players on set pieces near their goal, and second that they clearly focus on offense first which makes them suspect when dealing with quick creative players who can counter attack. Both of these are great news for RSL as they are things that with our lineup we should be able to take advantage of. Still the Galaxy are a very good team and it is likely that while their stars may not play 90 minutes on Saturday, this is a big match for them and they know that in the past 3 points has been all that separated these teams at the end of season.
Last year the keys for most RSL matches were to complete a high percentage of passes, dominate possession and to take shots, and it remains the same this year. Perhaps the only thing I saw this preseason that concerned me was that some players seemed hesitant to take shots and were looking for that perfect pass to a teammate, I would say some players need to be a bit more greedy and take the shots when they are given the chances. I would love to see RSL with at least a dozen shots on Saturday night.
I think in the end these two teams while so very different on paper are very similar on the pitch, and while both will battle hard for the win it is likely this one ends up a 1-1 or 2-2 draw.
My RSL Starting XI:
Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, Terakazu Tanaka, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Sebastian Velasquez, Luis Gil, Paulo Jr., and Fabian Espindola
There you go my first RSL match preview of the season, what do you think the final score will be?
OFF MY SOAPBOX