With several other Western Conference results going their way, Real Salt Lake is poised to stay in the playoff race when they host an LA Galaxy team whose wheels have fallen completely off the wagon.
These teams have met twice this season, splitting the results, although RSL has outscored the Galaxy by far. LA won the first match at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 18th by a score of 2-1, but RSL answered back on July 4th at the StubHub Center with a commanding 6-2 win over the home side, which seemed to be the turning point for the claret-and-cobalt as they’ve only lost two games since that night in Carson, CA.
During that run, RSL has outscored their opponents 29-14, scoring four goals or more in four separate games.
Now that LA is officially out of the playoff picture, they’ll be playing for their pride and their jobs as one of the hottest teams in MLS rolls into town, looking to grab another three points and stay ahead of the trailing clubs.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 12-14-5 (41 points)
Table: 5th place (west), 11th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.32 (13th in MLS)
Most goals: Joao Plata (7), Yura Movsisyan (7), Albert Rusnak (7)
Most assists: Albert Rusnak (13) *T-5th in MLS
Clean sheets: 9 (Rimando 8, Van Oekel 1)
Ending streaks, stealing the show
Coming off a 2-0 win over the defending champs Seattle Sounders last week, while also snapping the Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run, RSL is riding high now sitting in fifth place in the west, firmly in a playoff spot for the time being. MLS has finally started taking notice and giving credit not only to Real Salt Lake as a club, but to the players that are creating these results as well.
Three of RSL’s young players made the MLS 24 under 24 rankings this past week, with Jefferson Savarino (#22), Justen Glad (#18), and Albert Rusnak (#15) all making appearances on the list, and with good reason. The work that these guys have been putting in on both sides of the ball has been nothing short of fantastic over the last couple of months.
Home stretch in form
Entering the final month of the regular season, Real Salt Lake looks ahead to their trip to the StubHub Center this weekend with only three matches left to play. While many can make the case that this should be an “easy win” considering LA’s recent terrible form, and conversely RSL’s great form (7-2-3 in their last 12), it’s never a good idea to assume that any given game will result in an automatic three points.
After they take on the Galaxy, RSL will travel to Colorado two weeks later to hopefully complete a clean sweep of the Rapids for the season, then they’ll host Sporting Kansas City at home for the last game of the regular season. By then, they’ll hope to already have a playoff spot locked up.
Help from the west
Midweek MLS play saw RSL’s closest competitors make up one of their games in hand, with both San Jose and Houston dropping points and helping the playoff situation. The Earthquakes lost 4-1 to Chicago, which puts them all caught up with RSL on games played while still sitting two points back, just below the red line. Houston scored two late goals to salvage a 3-3 draw against the Galaxy, which put them at 40 points, just ahead of San Jose but also just below the red line.
Unfortunately, FC Dallas was able to squeak out a 2-0 win against Colorado which puts them tied on points with RSL, but Salt Lake holds the first tiebreaker in number of overall wins.
Both Dallas and Houston still have one game in hand to try and make up points to catch RSL.
Center forward rotation
With Luis Silva still nursing a groin injury, it’s tough to say who Mike Petke will start at center forward this weekend. Last week against Seattle we were all a little surprised to see youngster Brooks Lennon start in his spot, opting to put Yura Movsisyan on the bench while Petke stated it was to shake things up for Seattle’s center backs while using Lennon as a false nine.
It remains to be seen whether Lennon will get the start yet again, or if Movsisyan will get a crack at the starting spot if Silva isn’t quite ready to go yet.
It’s worth noting that three players — Albert Rusnak (Slovakia), Joao Plata (Ecuador), and Jefferson Savarino (Venezuela) — have all been called up to their respective national teams for World Cup Qualifying play next week. Luckily, they’ll remain with the team through this weekend and won’t be missing any games during RSL’s crucial playoff push.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Record: 7-17-7 (28 points)
Table: 10th place (west), 21st place (overall)
Points per game: 0.9 (21st in MLS)
Most goals: Romain Alessandrini (11)
Most assists: Romain Alessandrini (10)
Clean sheets: 5 (Kempin 2, Rowe 2, Diop 1)
Out of the picture
For the first time since 2008, the Galaxy have officially failed to qualify for the playoffs as they sit in second-to-last place in the league, just barely hanging on above the Colorado Rapids. A locker room in turmoil, the club fired Bruce Arena’s successor Curt Onalfo and replaced him with household name Sigi Schmid back in July.
Turns out it would be too late for Sigi to turn the ship around, as they’ve only notched one win since he took the reins.
In fact, that win has been LA’s lone victory over their last 16 games, a stretch where they’ve registered an abysmal 1-12-3 record dating back to June 24th, scoring only 18 goals during that run.
So where does that leave LA? They’ve undoubtedly got a squad full of talented players — Schmid just needs to figure out how to get them all on the same page. It’s also safe to assume that there will be a big makeover this offseason as Schmid starts to shape his team ahead of his first full season in charge.
The lone bright spot for LA this season, it seems, is new signing Romain Alessandrini. Leading the team in both goals (11) and assists (10), he’s been fantastic for the majority of the year even when the team couldn’t string any results together.
Playing for pride
With nothing left to play for but their pride and their spots on the team next season, LA will most definitely come out swinging against RSL at the StubHub Center, where they’ve only won two games all season long.
It seemed as though they were on track to grab another win earlier this week against Houston when they had a 3-1 lead going into the final minutes of the game. Unfortunately for them (and for RSL), they gave up two late goals and ended in a draw, no doubt crushing their spirits and taking the wind out of their sails just a little bit.
While RSL didn’t have a midweek game, they’ll look to take advantage of some tired legs and run their usual high-pressure attacking game against a team who’s been outscored 28-13 at home this season.
Missing big key players
While the season as a whole has been unsuccessful, it could be said that some of the blame can be laid on the big injuries they’ve had to deal with all season. Players who play a massive role in the team have gone down with long-term injuries, including Sebastian Lletget who only played three games before he had to undergo foot surgery which effectively ended his season.
They also lost Baggio Husidic to a fractured fibula back in May, Pele van Anholt to a season-ending torn ACL in August, and Robbie Rogers who hasn’t played a minute all season due to an ankle injury. Not to mention they also lost a big defender in Nigel de Jong in August when he left LA to sign with Galatasaray in Turkey.
RSL: Joao Plata (7), Yura Movsisyan (7), Albert Rusnak (7), Luis Silva (6), Jefferson Savarino (6), Kyle Beckerman (3), Luke Mulholland (3), Brooks Lennon (2)
LAG: Romain Alessandrini (11), Giovani dos Santos (6), Emmanuel Boateng (4), Daniel Steres (3), Gyasi Zardes (2), Bradford Jamieson IV (2), Jack McBean (2), Dave Romney (2)
OUT: Jordan Allen (knee), Omar Holness (knee), Chad Barrett (knee), Ricardo Velazco (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: Demar Phillips (hamstring), Luis Silva (groin)
OUT: Robbie Rogers (ankle), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Baggio Husidic (leg), Pele van Anholt (torn ACL), Daniel Steres (transverse process fracture)
QUESTIONABLE: Bradley Diallo (hamstring)
RSL: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, M Silva, Acosta; Beckerman, Mulholland; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Lennon
LAG: Diop; Cole, Romney, Ciani, Zardes; Jones, Pedro; Boateng, J dos Santos, Alessandrini; G dos Santos
When: Saturday, September 30, 8:30PM MT
Where: StubHub Center — Carson, CA
Weather: 67 degrees, partly cloudy
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700 (radio only), MLS Live
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez (2017: 2 games, 4 yellows, 0 reds, 1 penalty)