Real Salt Lake battles the LA Galaxy – Match Preview

For me as a RSL fan there is no better rivalry in Major League soccer, notice I didn’t say the biggest, or fiercest, but I said no better.  Here is why, since RSL joined the league in 2005 the teams have played each other 21 times in regular season action, each side has 8 victories and there have been 5 draws.  RSL has an edge in goals scored of 36 to 32, and there has never been a 0-0 draw between the two teams.  Then add in the 2009 MLS Cup final, when RSL played the spoiler to pull off a PK shootout victory to lift the Cup, and you can also add last year’s Western Conference final where RSL scored first but LA answered back to win the match 3-1.

Even with the current coaches of the teams things are even, Bruce Arena is 4-4-4 against RSL and Jason Kreis is 5-4-4 against the LA Galaxy.  LA is 12-3-1 against RSL when they score first, and RSL is 14-1-0 against LA when they score first.  This year the teams find themselves locked in a battle for playoff position as both have punched their playoff tickets already this year, RSL has a slight edge with 52 points and a 16-11-4 record, while the Galaxy have 50 points with a 15-11-5 record.  LA is at +12 in goal differential, while RSL is at +10 at this point of the season.

Don’t get me wrong there are huge differences between the teams; LA is in the 2nd largest city in the US, while RSL is in the smallest market in MLS.  RSL has a payroll of 3.58 million dollars, while the Galaxy have a player that makes more than that by himself, and another who makes just 175K less than our entire roster, in total the Galaxy payroll is over 12 million dollars.

So what is going to happen when these two very different teams face off on Saturday?

Key Match Up:

Landon Donovan & Robbie Keane vs. Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave

So the match up we were denied last year in the Western Conference final will be center stage for the world to see on Saturday.  While the LA offense was slow to get started this year, they are now the second most lethal scoring offense with 55 goals scored (behind San Jose’s 65), and at the same time the RSL defense has had some struggles this year but now rank as the 3rd best defense in MLS with just 34 goals allowed (behind Seattle’s 31 and SKC’s 25).  In their last 7 matches RSL has allowed just 2 goals to be scored against them, the Galaxy in their last 7 matches have scored 15 goals, including 4 against TFC and 4 against Puerto Rico in CCL action.

Robbie Keane has scored 14 goals (6 game winners) and added 8 assists this year for the Galaxy, while Landon Donovan has 9 goals and 14 assists (5 game winners).  Of course LA has other weapons like David Beckham and Juninho, but this team is only as good as Robbie and Landon this year.  Neither are speedsters, neither are huge guys, but both have a ton of talent and understand the game as well as anyone who plays in MLS.

Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave are still one of the best duo of center back in MLS, and when healthy they are capable of shutting down the most dangerous offensive players, in fact only 3 times this year has an opponent scored more than 2 goals against RSL (compare to LA’s 6). While both Nat and Jamison have great size, Nat is the calm influence on the pitch that sees and reacts quickly by positioning himself to breakup plays, Jamison is a physical beast and with speed that allows him to quickly recover and able to body players off the ball and away from being a threat.  The battle between these players should be one of the best on the pitch on Saturday night.

Wildcards:

Mike Magee – So many big names get attention in LA, but the heart and soul of their team to me is Mike Magee.  Against RSL he has 3 goals and 1 assist in regular season matches, but I remember clearly the goal he scored against RSL in MLS Cup.  Mike has showed up in the biggest matches, consider that he has played in 11 playoff matches for LA and he has 5 goals in those matches.  So while everyone will talk about Beckham, and the rest of the Galaxy’s big names, keep an eye on number 18.

Luis Gil – It is interesting that I list #18 Mike Magee, and follow him with the RSL wildcard of 18 year old Luis Gil. This has been an interesting season for Luis, he has been both a starter (16 starts) as well as a vital sub (10 appearances off the bench).  On Saturday he will likely start for the injured Ned Grabavoy, before he takes off to Europe with the US U-20 team for a couple weeks.  Luis has been able to contribute a goal and 3 assists so far this season, and while he still seems a bit hesitant at times, I think it is more out of respect for his more veteran teammates than it is anything else.  It will be interesting to see how he will do against a very good LA midfield.

Baldomero Toledo – Well it seems every league has had issues with bad calls and bad officials, for RSL the last couple of weeks have actually seen some of the best called matches of the season.  Will that continue on Saturday with the veteran Baldomero Toledo in charge of the match, he has been in charge of 143 matches, calls an average of 25 fouls per match, issues 3.4 yellow cards per match.  He has pointed to the PK spot 51 times and shown 48 red cards.  I just hope that the play on the pitch will be what everyone is talking about at the end of the match, not the official.

My Prediction:

Well so far this year the two matches between these sides have been very entertaining, and with the two teams as close to full strength as you can be at this time of the season, and so much on the line for both teams it should be another entertaining night.  I have heard Jason say for years that he thinks RSL and LA match up well and the results over the last few years have confirmed that.  Both teams appear to be hitting good form at the right time of the season, but while RSL looked dominant in their win over Chivas USA last weekend, LA looked a bit more pedestrian in their 1-1 draw at Colorado.

Real Salt Lake has played 3 matches at the Home Depot Center this year and won them all, so the location will make little difference to them.  This match like most in MLS will likely come down to who scores first, RSL is 14-1-0 when they score first (that only loss came to the Galaxy), while LA is 12-3-1 when they score first.  The first 15 minutes are telling, as both teams have scored 6 goals in the first 15 minutes of matches, but LA has given up 7 goals in the first 15 minutes, something RSL still hasn’t done this year.  The final 15 minutes are even for both sides, they each have scored 13 and given up 9.

The Galaxy offensive weapons scare me, but RSL has shown that if they don’t make huge mistakes that they can keep them from being too dangerous.  The Galaxy defense without A.J. DeLaGarza could be a bit out of sorts and that might provide Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola with just the chances they need to help RSL pick up a 2-1 win in LA.

That’s How I See It

 

 

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