Real Salt Lake will play their last game before the World Cup break on Saturday as they travel to Southern California to take on long-time rivals LA Galaxy. Although they made a quick US Open Cup exit with a 2-0 loss to SKC on Wednesday, RSL is riding high on a three-game winning streak in MLS play and will look to head into the short break on a high note.
The rivalry between these two sides run deep, as they’ve traded wins back and forth over the years, ending up almost on an even keel. LA holds a slight edge in the all-time series, with a record of 14W-13L-9D in regular season play.
Of the three meetings between the teams last year, each side won once and ended the series with a 1-1 draw at the StubHub Center. RSL’s win in LA, however, is widely seen as the turning point of the 2017 season as they crushed the Galaxy by a score of 6-2, after which they would go on to be arguably the best team in the Western Conference for the remainder of the season, despite narrowly missing out on the playoffs.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 7-6-1 (22 points)
Table: 3rd place (west), 7th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.57 (T-9th in MLS)
Most goals: Corey Baird (4)
Most assists: Damir Kreilach (4)
Clean sheets: 4
On a roll
So, this is a very different conversation we’re having now compared to a week or two ago. Real Salt Lake, once near the bottom of the table, banked nine points in three games to catapult themselves to third place in the Western Conference, just six points behind first-place Sporting Kansas City. Two of those games came without star midfielder Albert Rusnak, who’s been away on international duty. In his absence, Mike Petke opted to push Damir Kreilach up to the attacking midfield role and play Sunny in the holding mid spot, which seemed to work out really, really well for the team.
That begs the question: what will be Petke’s strategy now that Rusnak has returned from the Slovakian national team? Surely Albert will be starting in his normal spot, but with how well Sunny and Kyle Beckerman played together, will he choose to bench Kreilach in LA to see if he can keep that defensive midfield pairing going? Or will he get a little crazy and leave Kyle as the lone holding midfielder, while pushing Kreilach up further to play next to Rusnak?
New goal leader
Corey Baird, who is on an absolute tear as of late, successfully notched his fourth goal of the season with the game-winner against Seattle last week, and now alone holds the title of the team’s leading goal scorer on the season. This speaks volumes for the youngster who has clearly won the starting spot at center forward over teammate Luis Silva — who has also been playing pretty decently when he gets the opportunity.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Record: 5-7-2 (17 points)
Table: 8th place (west), 15th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.21 (T-15th in MLS)
Most goals: Ola Kamara (5), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (5)
Most assists: Emmanuel Boateng (4), Ashley Cole (4)
Clean sheets: 4
Mediocre at best
With the addition of superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has notched five goals and three assists through 10 games, I’m sure LA expected to be a little higher in the table than they are currently. Since Zlatan came on board, they’ve only put together four wins in 11 games, while losing five and adding a single draw. It speaks more to the idea that one player can’t necessarily save a whole team’s season.
Fresh off a 1-1 draw on the road against Portland, and a 3-2 loss at home to Dallas before that, LA will look to head into the break by securing a home win against a side that has only won once on the road all season.
Fresh attacking faces
While LA sent away long-time staple Gyasi Zardes to Columbus in the offseason, they picked up top-notch striker Ola Kamara in return, who has exploded this season to bank five goals for the Galaxy. Pairing alongside Ibrahimovic, their attack has the potential to be extremely dangerous. While their record doesn’t bode well for how good they could be, they’ve scored seven goals in their last five games. Unfortunately for them, the defense couldn’t hold it down as they also allowed seven goals, although to be fair, six of those goals came from FC Dallas who handed them two 3-2 losses within four weeks of each other.
LA has only won three of their seven games at home this season, while losing the other four outright. If they keep up that trend, that should strongly play to RSL’s advantage while they’ve been playing some of their best soccer all season the last couple weeks.
Real Salt Lake will take a week off for the World Cup, resuming MLS play on June 23rd as they host the San Jose Earthquakes. LA will be off until July 1st, at which point they’ll travel to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes themselves.
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), Shawn Barry (knee), Demar Phillips (ankle), Luke Mulholland (back)
QUESTIONABLE: Joao Plata (quad)
OUT: Bradford Jamieson IV (concussion), Rolf Feltscher (shoulder)
RSL: Rimando; Lennon, M Silva, Glad, Acosta; Sunny, Beckerman; Savarino, Rusnak, Saucedo; Baird
LAG: Bingham; Romney, Ciani, Skjelvik, Cole; Carrasco, Kitchen; Alessandrini, Lletget, Boateng; Kamara
When: Saturday, June 9, 8:30PM MT
Where: StubHub Center — Carson, CA
Weather: 75 degrees, clear
Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)
Referee: Ted Unkel