Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Match Preview

Since joining the league in 2005, there is no team that I think has provided more exciting moments for RSL fans than the LA Galaxy.  First came the addition of David Beckham, then the drama of the MLS Cup in Seattle, the 2011 Western Conference finals, and every match in between.  For 8 years it has been how do you top the last thing, last year RSL had taken it to the Galaxy in the first match of the season by beating them 3-1 at the Home Depot Center.  The second match saw RSL take off to an early 2-0 lead at Rio Tinto Stadium, but then mistakes allowed a hungry Landon Donovan and Mike Magee to get 3 unanswered goals to pull off the 3-2 upset.  RSL would get a bit of revenge late in the season as they came back from an early LA goal to get two Fabian Espindola goals and a sweep of the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.  22 regular season meetings, 9 RSL wins, 8 LA Galaxy wins, and 5 draws,  38 goals for RSL and 33 for the Galaxy.  Two meetings in the playoffs, 2009 when RSL beat them on PK’s to lift the MLS Cup, and 2011 when LA came from behind to win the Western Conference final on their way to winning the MLS Cup.

Oh Bruce Arena may not want to call RSL a rival, why would he, why would anyone from LA want to add fuel to the fire?  Yes LA is the premier team in MLS, yes they have the top payroll in MLS (or will have when they add their 3rd DP to replace Beckham), yes they are featured almost weekly on national TV, beyond that they are just a great team.  While RSL feels slighted on about every front as the small market team running on a tight budget, fighting for everything they can get.  I just know that when the players from each side take the pitch, they know they are in for a battle, and they know that every play is a statement that will last all season.  Only 3 teams in the post shoot-out era of MLS have ever had 3 straight seasons where they earned 50 points or more, and on Saturday the two teams that have done that the last 3 seasons will face off for the first time this season.  I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like a rivalry to me.

The Good:

Robbie Findley – Back to full fitness after the injury suffered on scoring his first goal of the season, could Robbie get revenge on his former team?  His unique combination of speed and skill has resulted in 2 goals in his previous matches against the Galaxy.  While Olmes Garcia has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks, I thought in his action late in the Chivas match that Robbie changed the match and allowed RSL to be much more dominating late in the match.  So either as a starter or off the bench, I think Robbie Findley could be one of the keys to a RSL victory on Saturday.

Kyle Beckerman – Kyle will likely be back in action for the first time since leaving the pitch early in the first half against Vancouver due to injured ribs, hopefully he will be able to go the full 90 minutes against the Galaxy as he will be one of the keys to disrupting both their midfield and their counter attacks.  Whenever he is on the pitch for RSL you know that Kyle is focused and ready to do battle, his mellow unassuming personality off the pitch give way to a pitbull type of mentality that is unwilling to let go of the ball for any reason and willing to do anything to get it back, and that is why he wears the captain’s armband for RSL. While most of us think of Kyle as the defensive bite in the midfield, against LA he is RSL’s 2nd active leading scorer with 2 goals in the 11 matches he has played against them wearing the Claret and Cobalt. RSL is simply a better team with Kyle on the pitch and thankfully it sounds like that will be the case on Saturday.

Nat Borchers – Nat has faced off with the Galaxy 20 times as a starter, almost 1800 minute played and on Saturday with it still up in the air as far as who might be playing for LA, one thing is clear, Nat will need to have a very good match for RSL if we are going to get a result.    LA has already scored 10 goals in their first 6 matches, a much higher pace than RSL ( 7 in our first 8).   Robbie Keane, Jack McBean, Mike Magee, or god only know who could pose the offensive threat for the Galaxy, but whoever it is they will have to deal with Nat Borchers.  While Nat started the season still recovering from off-season surgery, each week he has looked better, more fit, more sharp and now I think we will see the guy who is constantly ranked among the top centerbacks in MLS show what he is all about, and that is a very good thing for RSL.

The Bad:

Landon Donovan – I am not sure if we will even see Landon on Saturday, rumors are that he is injured and might miss the match.  It would be a shame if he isn’t there but I know I am not alone in wondering if this Landon Donovan is the same guy who has lead LA to back to back MLS Cups, was a mainstay and leader of the USMNT for the last couple World Cups?  When he packed his bags, took his ball and went on a very extended vacation, it left me wondering does he still care, is the passion that we have seen so often on display from him over the years gone, is soccer now just a way to collect a paycheck?  A lot of questions, and not a lot of answers, yes he still has skills (you don’t lose those overnight) and yes he can still be an impact player in MLS, but if things get tough (and we know the long MLS season gets tough) will he just take another break from the sport?  I hope not, LA is a better team with him, MLS is a better league with him, and yes the USMNT is better with him as well.  I may boo him all day long in white and gold, or whatever LA is wearing, but I will always cheer him in the red, white and blue.

Mike Magee – A couple years ago I said that if I could take one player from the LA Galaxy and add them to the RSL roster it would be Mike Magee.  Not Omar, not Landon, not Beckham, but often overlooked Mike Magee, and people wondered about my sanity (there are plenty of good reasons to do so, this isn’t one).  Magee is what is right about MLS, a player with talent and heart, a guy who is clearly not looking for headlines and is willing to do whatever it takes to make his team successful, that is why he is one of my favorite players in MLS 31 weeks of the season.

Carlo Cudicini – I know some of you are scratching your heads wondering who?  This is the guy who took the job (“they took our jobs”) from Josh Saunders, and so far he has been fairly impressive.  He has a 0.67 GAA in the 6 matches LA has played in so far this year, just 4 goals allowed and 3 shutouts, for a guy just joining MLS that isn’t bad at all.  One has to wonder at 39 years old how durable he might be, he is a good size keeper at 6’1”, and very match smart.  He has played in the best leagues in the world, and few players ever in MLS can say they have a pair of Premier League titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups. It should be exciting to watch him play, but I think our unique combination of forwards might be enough to cause him issues.

The Ugly:

Non-Stop Action – It is funny to look at when in matches team score their goals, some teams are early starters, while others live on the edge in stoppage time.  If you look at RSL and LA this season, 3 of their 17 combined goals have come in the first 30 minutes, while 10 have come in the final 30 minutes.  Historically the matches between these sides are much more evenly spread out:

1-15         16-30     31-45        46-60         61-75         76-90     Total
RSL          7             7             4              6              8              6              38
LAG          6             5             4              6              6              6              33

Yeah that is fairly impressive to me, and if you are a fan of action, well looking at that you would have to say that there the only good time for a bathroom break will be halftime and even that is risky.  We know that LA loves to sit back a bit and counter and with RSL being a bit more aggressive and offensive minded at home, they will have plenty of chances.  I think this match could look a lot like last weekends match against Chivas, but with a bit more skill and offense.  Just two shutouts combined in the 10 matches between these two sides, and I doubt we see one on Saturday.

My Prediction:

Well if you believe the staff at MLS soccer this one is a no-brainer as 5 of their 6 editors picked RSL for the win this week, and with so many questions about injuries for LA who can blame them.  If we are honest about things, RSL has been a better team than LA for the last few years, and had it not been for some awful mistakes at Rio Tinto last year it most likely would have been a sweep for RSL who won both matches at the Home Depot Center.   This is a RSL team that has looked better each week for the last month and it could be a huge chance for them to gain valuable ground in the Western Conference this weekend.  The Galaxy have given up 3 of their 4 goals allowed this season in the final 15 minutes of matches, I look for RSL to score an early goal, LA to tie it up early in the second half, and then a late goal for RSL to pick up the 2-1 win.

That’s How I See It

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