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RSL vs. LA Tactical Preview: A Song of Age and Money

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MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The post-Landon Donovan era has been dark and full of terrors for the LA Galaxy. After capturing the MLS Cup thrice in a four year period, LA has failed to dominate the league despite spending the most money of any club in the league.

The Galaxy was knocked out of the 2015 MLS Playoffs after only their first match. Their struggles were only compounded as they bleed into this year. Despite a roller-coaster of a 2016 season thus far, the Galaxy find themselves above the red line with 11 points, or 1.83 points earned per match. But enough about the general nature of the Galaxy, it's time to discuss how they will stack up against Real Salt Lake.

Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall.

Over the last year, Los Angeles has brought in four world-renowned players, all over the age of 30, to add to their aging core. Each of these players cost the club a pretty penny to bring in, and they are leaving the pitch each week making more than 47 of their average paid peers, or, put another way, more than 57 times as much as Jordan Morris as the highest paid Homegrown player in MLS history, combined. Names such as Steven Gerrard, Jelle Van Damme, Ashley Cole, and Nigel de Jong now enter the pitch in Galaxy kits.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Houston Dynamo Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Joining over-30 Robbie Keane, these players are sometimes considered the elite in the league. This is why the MLS has long been known as the Elephant Graveyard to Premier League fans. They believe that once a player is passed their prime, they can sell their talent to MLS for above market price.

It doesn't end there, however. The aforementioned names also join the ranks of MLS veterans passed the age of thirty with the Galaxy including Alan Gordon, Jeff Larentowicz, Mike Magee, and Dan Kennedy.

The Galaxy are once again the oldest squad in the league with an average roster age of 27.1 — although losing out to NYCFC in 2015, who had an average age of 27.4.

But the league is changing, seasoned veterans are not wining as much in 2016's incarnation of Major League Soccer. For example, it was an average 24.5 aged FC Dallas that nearly captured the MLS Supporters Shield last year losing out to the New York Red Bulls only through goal differential. The league is getting younger and quicker, and heavy legs just don't do as well anymore.

For all the big money splashes the LA Galaxy made over the past year, the results have just not come in as they would have liked. Since Stevie G made his debut for the Galaxy, the club has a 8-7-4 record and sustained one of its worst records in club recent history to end the 2015 season 1-5-2, including their MLS Playoff first round exit at the hands of the Seattle Sounders.

This year hasn't been much better with the club going 2-1-2 in their first five games. The sixth game, however, the club looked much better with Giovanni Dos Santos playing the No 10 role. Still, the Galaxy are only producing, on average, 10.2 goal-scoring changes per 90 minutes which is below the 14.4 they managed in 2015. They are also getting less shots on target - 46 percent compared to 47. Their offense remains stagnate, so much so that they are relying twice as much on set-piece goals than the previous two years combined.

While the Galaxy might have the best MLS squad on paper, they are far from it in reality even with the likes of world class players. So while money might buy you headlines, they don't necessarily translate to results.

Let the boys lose a battle when they are young, so they do not lose a war when they are old.

Even with all the talk about the Galaxy fielding the oldest squad in MLS their is also an important distinction that must be made when it comes to the starting XI. Even with nine players passed the age of 30, the Galaxy's starting XI in 2016 average 29.9 years old. RSL, on the other hand, has seven players over the age of thirty and their starting XI in 2016 averages 30.4 years old. So while the Galaxy has more players over the age of 30, the Claret-and-Cobalt's starters are older than most of the opposition when they take the pitch.

In any case, age comes with both its pros and cons, the key is managing the shortcomings and playing to your skill set.

A few more things to consider:

4. Against Real, LA will be absent a few key contributors. Their first tier goalkeeper, Kennedy, will likely be absent from the line-up since he has been missing some training since tearing his groin, De Jong is serving a suspension after his tackle on Darlington Nagbe, and, finally, former MLS MVP and club captain Robbie Keane is out after knee surgery. Stevie G, Leonardo and Robbie Rogers are all questionable with lower body injuries which could mean they also do not see the pitch against RSL.

LA Galaxy Injury Report
Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com.

3. The Galaxy are 2-0-1 at the StubHub Center this year. They have found the back of the net eight times, and conceded three. Despite this not boding so well for the Claret-and-Cobalt, it is important to remember that the last three matches in Carson between these two sides have ended in a 1-0 scoreline. The Galaxy have come out on top twice but RSL took an important three points from their hosts back in 2014.

Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com's Match Center.

2. Giovanni Dos Santos won both Man of the Match as well as MLS Team of the Week honors after a dominant performance against Houston - who was already near the top of the league in goals conceded before last weekends match. LA head coach Bruce Arena moved dos Santos to the central playmaker role in the 4-2-3-1 - a sister formation to what RSL plays.

dos Santos' contributions against Houston.
Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com and Opta.

In one match, Gio scored twice with his only two shots of 2016. He was also more involved in the build-up play but created zero chances and was less accurate with his passing. So, while he personally had a great game, soccer is a team sport and he did not do much for the players surrounding him.

dos Santos heat map against Houston.
Courtesy of Squawka.

1. The Galaxy play a style of soccer that seeks to dominate possession and cross the ball. RSL has already shown that they are willing to concede possession and remain tight defensively when playing away from home - i.e., the Sporting Kansas City match-up at the beginning of April. Hitting the Galaxy hard on the counter and using individual skill will be essential for the Real squad at the StubHub Center.

LA Galaxy 2016 Stats
Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com's Match Center.

Expected Lineups

LA Galaxy (4-2-3-1)

GK: Rowe

DEF: DeLaGarza, Steres, Van Damme, Cole

MID: Larentowicz, Husidic, Lletget, dos Santos, Magee

ATT: Zardes

RSL (4-3-3)

GK: Rimando

DEF: Beltran, Glad, Maund, Phillips

MID: Beckerman, Sunny, Morales

ATT: Martinez, Movsisyan, Plata

Keys to the match:

Stay compact defensively

Utilize the quick counter-attack

Do not concede set-pieces near the box

Watch RSL on Saturday, April 23th at 8:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on KMYU or MLS LIVE.