Well it is a busy week for RSL, with their 3-0 win at Chivas USA on Saturday, now back home to take on the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night. Now I always get a bit of a chuckle when people tell me that MLS doesn't play favorites with the Galaxy, I mean how many other teams that pick up just their 4th win in 14 matches would get a headline like this:
"Kick Off: Are Galaxy regaining that championship feeling?"
Really, at 4-8-2 with more losses than they had all of 2011, with 21 goals allowed in just 14 matches, a 1-0 win at home over a team tied for last place in the West and you are thinking they have that Championship Feeling, oh my MLS how more over the top could you get?
It is OK, we will allow it, because we know the reality of the situation. We know that RSL holds a 8-7-5 all time record against the Galaxy, we know that LA has won just 1 of their 9 matches played in Salt Lake, and we know that already this year we exposed the Galaxy on opening day in a 3-1 RSL win. Still, I don't take anything for granted, we know that LA is a very talented team. I think for both teams that they step it up when facing each other, especially since MLS Cup 2009, since then some of the most exciting matches in MLS have been between these two sides. In the 6 matches between the two sides since then, there have been no draws and 3 of the matches were decided by a single goal.
7 current RSL players have scored against the Galaxy, lead by Javier Morales with 5 goals and 4 assists, and by Fabi with 3 goals and 1 assist. The Galaxy have a number of guys on their roster who have done very well against RSL, none better than Edson Buddle with 10 goals in 13 matches against RSL, Landon Donovan with 6 goals and 7 assists in 14 matches against RSL, and surprisingly Chad Barrett with 4 goals in 13 matches. On upside for RSL is that Josh Saunders has a 2.67 GAA when facing RSL in 3 previous matches.
more after the jump, including Key Match up, Wildcards and more:
Here are the updated injury lists for both sides:
RSL - OUT: DF Chris Schuler (L foot bone stress response); QUESTIONABLE: MF Sebastian Velasquez (R foot turf toe); MF Luis Gil (R knee strain); PROBABLE: MF Javier Morales (R quadriceps strain); DF Jamison Olave (R calf strain).
LA Galaxy - OUT: DF Andrew Boyens (L sports hernia surgery); FW Edson Buddle (R knee surgery); FW Adam Cristman (concussion); DF Omar Gonzalez (L knee surgery); MF Dan Keat (R knee surgery); DF Leonardo (R knee inflammation); QUESTIONABLE: DF Bryan Gaul (facial fracture); MF Hector Jimenez (L quad hematoma); FW Pat Noonan (R quad strain)
Key Match Up:
Fabian Espindola & Alvaro Saborio vs. LA's Defense -
RSL's top two scorers are stuck on 6 goals each, both Fabi and Sabo also have an assist to go with their goals, and going up against a LA defense that has struggled, just one clean sheet all year and 5 matches with multiple goals allowed. Fabi and Sabo have a total of 3 matches where one or the other have multiple goals in just RSL's last 5 matches, Fabi does hold a 3-0 lead over Sabo in goals scored against the Galaxy so can we expect Sabo to do his best to get himself back in the race on Wednesday, I think so.
We all know that LA Galaxy defense took a big hit when Omar Gonzalez got hurt, but you also have to factor in the veteran leadership that the Galaxy lost in the off season as Gregg Berhalter, Frankie Hejduk, and Donovan Ricketts all left the squad after MLS Cup, that has left some huge holes and with Leonardo injured to start the year and now back on the injured list without playing a minute it has but a lot of pressure on the remaining Galaxy defenders. When you add in the question mark in goal, it just gets complicated for LA to build a solid defensive effort with changing lineups and the lack of a real defensive leader on the pitch.
I have to believe that the advantage goes to the pair of RSL strikers who have seemed to start clicking as the season hits its summer phase, for RSL opponents it could be a very long summer if our strikers can stay hot.
Landon Donovan - How did I get to the point that Landon is a wildcard? Easy, let's look at what I think has been the issue in the decline of the LA Galaxy this year, they won MLS Cup and felt like they had finally accomplished what they were brought together to do. Then came this year, the Champions League and all of a sudden they simply seemed not to care as much, maybe the post season tour, maybe the loans of players in the off season, maybe all the distractions that came with winning. All those things seem to have been too much, when heading into USMNT camp Landon made some questionable comments about his desire to play soccer anymore, no he didn't say he was ready to quit, but we have seen this year that he often seems disinterested at times and without him LA is a good team but not a great team. Now that being said, if there is a rivalry that can get Landycakes fired up for a match, you have to believe it is RSL and we all know that when Landon is focused he is simply the best to ever play in MLS.
Javier Morales - The question of how Javier Morales gets to be a wildcard is much easier, it isn't about how he plays it is about his physical ability to play. Go back to last spring and the injury that put him on the shelf for months on end, and while we were able to see Javi come back at the end of the season, I think that was a mistake. Being physically able to play and being able to play like Javier Morales plays are two different things, and while I understand the move to bring him back last year was probably more about the psychological effects of his injury than the physical, I still question it. I think Javi has changed some of his movements in response to the injury and like when you sprain your ankle and you walk differently for a couple weeks it impacts your other ankle as you adjust how you walk. I believe that some of the issues of last year have lead to some of the injury issues of this year, but if Javi is truly fit now, or working back to full fitness well that is a very good thing. A fully fit Javier Morales is simply one of the best play makers in MLS, I really hope that as the summer goes along that we get to see a fully fit Javier Morales.
Kevin Stott - While Kevin is often one of the most consistent officials in MLS, I always worry about when someone is officiating their home town team and when one official is picked often to officiate the same teams when they meet. Still when you look at Kevin's numbers of 222 matches, an average of 25.7 fouls called per match, 3.4 yellows per match and 58 red cards given with 45 PK's awarded, you see an official who can quickly change a match with a call. As always I hope that we get a fairly and evenly called match, and I wouldn't mind if one David Beckham is shown a card for what has become constant dissent and belittlement of MLS officials.
My RSL Staring XI:
Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, Fabian Espindola
I think we will see something rare this year from RSL, their top choice starting XI.
This is still a very good LA Galaxy team, but they aren't as good as they were last year and with the reality of Buddle being out and Robbie Keane unlikely to play this team has a real question mark on scoring goals, Since April 28th the Galaxy have only once scored more than one goal, 3 times they have been shut out and their overall record is 1-5-2 in their last 8 matches. Keane and Buddle account for 5 of the 15 goals the Galaxy have scored, but remember like RSL they have a number of guys (8 plus those two) who have scored goals this year. For me it is the fact that LA has give up 21 goals already this year, they gave up just 28 all of last year.
So can RSL take advantage? The first time the teams faced off RSL had more passes (455 to 416), a higher completion rate (81% to73%) which resulted in more possession (51% to 49%). While the Galaxy ended up taking more shots (17 to 13) both sides had 4 on goal, and RSL had 3 find the back of the net, 9 of the Galaxy shots came from Buddle and Keane, so without them in the lineup the RSL defense should find itself able to keep LA further out from goal and hopefully limit their number of shots.
For RSL being at home should provide a bit of an advantage as the Galaxy have never won at Rio Tinto and have just one draw there over the last 4 years, still RSL must stick to what thy do best. Pass, possess and pounce are the keys, I fully expect with LA being down a few players that you will see RSL dominate even more in passing and possession than back in March. I think 480-510 passes by RSL is likely, with a completion rate between 80%-85%. That should allow for 54%-57% possession and that just leave the pouncing and with Fabian showing how on form he is last weekend, and knowing that Sabo should have had a goal last weekend to go with his 4 in recent World Cup qualifier should lead to RSL getting at least 13-15 shots off with 7-9 of them being on target. Can RSL limit LA to less than 4 shots on goal and give Nick Rimando a fairly easy night? That will be a big question mark that we will see answered tonight.
Knowing that LA is desperate and has a little confidence we can expect them to play their defend and counter style of soccer even more than they did earlier this year, the question will be can RSL break down their questionable defense? I believe so, I look for a 3-0 win by RSL on Wednesday night.
So what are your thoughts about the match?
OFF MY SOAPBOX #RuleTheGalaxy