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Match preview: Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy

RSL looks to move up the table and keep LA out of the playoff picture as Zlatan and the Galaxy comes to town.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The playoff race heats up as Real Salt Lake looks to win their third straight after their massive 6-0 rout in Colorado last week. This week, they return home to take on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy in a game with huge playoff implications.

LA and RSL have only met once this season, and it ended in a disappointing 3-0 win for the Galaxy, thanks to a big brace from Zlatan himself, followed up with a third goal from striker Ola Kamara.

Real Salt Lake

Record: 12-10-5 (41 points)
Table: 4th place (west), 7th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.52 (T-9th in MLS)
Most goals: Joao Plata (8), Albert Rusnak (8)
Most assists: Jefferson Savarino (8)
Clean sheets: 7
Form: WDLWW

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What the road wins?!

We’ve spent all season long talking about Real Salt Lake’s terrible road form, mustering only one win all year against a crippled Seattle — up until a couple weeks ago, of course. RSL has not only won two straight now, but two straight on the road, which is absolutely huge for this team right now.

With the 2-1 win in Houston thanks to Albert Rusnak’s stoppage time goals, followed by the 6-0 beatdown of rivals Colorado Rapids on their home turf, RSL is officially on a scoring tear, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Rusnak keeps scoring, Damir Kreilach keeps playing his best soccer of the year, Jefferson Savarino keeps racking up assists, and the defense continues to do its job.

Defensive improvements

Nick Besler has now started and played the full 90 in the last four matches straight while Marcelo Silva has been out with injury. Not to say that Silva isn’t great, but Besler has done a phenomenal job slotting in at center back next to Justen Glad. In those four games, RSL has only allowed four goals, while they allowed six goals in the previous games prior to that.

We’re officially in the playoff push

Who would have thought that RSL would be in this situation heading into the last two months of the season? Currently sitting in fourth place, RSL has the opportunity to jump to third place after this weekend, with a win over the Galaxy plus an LAFC loss or draw in Toronto. On top of that, RSL is only five points behind first-place FC Dallas, which means if things go well, they have a real chance at finishing first or second and skipping that play-in wildcard round altogether.

I know, it’s crazy to think, just weeks ago we were all biting our nails wondering if RSL would even qualify for the playoffs at all. And sure, there’s still a chance that they could drop below the red line before the season’s done, but with four of their last seven games at home — where they’ve only lost once this season — it’s hard to imagine that happening, especially if they’re going to be able to start getting more results on the road.

LA Galaxy

Record: 10-9-8 (38 points)
Table: 7th place (west), 13th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.52 (T-9th in MLS)
Most goals: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (16)
Most assists: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (7)
Clean sheets: 6
Form: LDLDD

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

LA is Zlatan

There, I said it. If not for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Galaxy would not be where they are right now this season. Even then, they’re still just barely outside of the playoff picture heading into this weekend. Zlatan has a staggering 16 goals and 7 assists in 20 appearances this season, leading the team in both stats. That’s almost one goal per game (0.8 goals per game), or about one goal every 94 minutes.

It definitely goes to show that he’s got plenty of gas left in the tank, but that one megastar alone can’t save a team’s season. Ola Kamara is next in line as far as goals scored, but with only nine under his belt, followed by midfielder Romain Alessandrini with eight.

Skid time

Regardless of Zlatan’s impressive stats, LA is hurting in a big way right now. They’re currently winless in their last five, which includes a 2-1 loss to Colorado and a 5-0 loss to Seattle. Not surprisingly, Zlatan didn’t play in either of those losses.

They’ve also been missing some of their big name players due to injury, including Romain Alessandrini and both Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos. The dos Santos brothers look to still be out for this weekend’s matchup, but Alessandrini could get back on the field as he’s been listed as questionable and has done some training this week.

Thirsty for points

LA will undoubtedly come out guns blazing, as they’re in desperate need of points if they want to jump back into the playoff race. With the way RSL has been playing lately, and especially with only one team able to beat them at home this season, it’ll be no easy feat for LA and Zlatan.


Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), David Horst (torn achilles; out for season), Luke Mulholland (back), Ricky Lopez-Espin (knee), Connor Sparrow (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Pablo Ruiz (knee), Marcelo Silva (ankle)

Los Angeles Galaxy
OUT: Giovani dos Santos (leg), Jonathan dos Santos (groin), Michael Ciani (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Romain Alessandrini (knee)

Expected lineups

RSL: Rimando; Lennon, Glad, Besler, Herrera; Beckerman, Sunny; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; Kreilach

LAG: Bingham; Feltscher, Skjelvik, Romney; Pontius, Kitchen, Carrasco, Cole; Lletget; Ibrahimovic, Kamara

Match info

When: Saturday, September 1, 8:00PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 77 degrees, clear

Broadcast: KMYU, KSL TV app (streaming), ESPN+ (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)

Referee: Drew Fischer