It was just over a month ago that RSL hosted the LA Galaxy and while the roster for LA featured some names you wouldn’t have expected, the most surprising fact of the night was that LA was able to get two goals in the first 15 minutes and then hold on to keep the 2-0 win. It wasn’t surprising that LA would get a win in Salt Lake, they have done so before, including last years 3-2 come from behind win, it was however that RSL gave up early goals. So far this season RSL has allowed 15 goals, just 5 in the first half of matches and only one other team has scored in the first 30 minutes against RSL. I count that match fluke, if you look at the numbers it is late goals for and against is what you should expect from these two sides, RSL has scored 11 of their 21 goals in the final 30 minutes of matches, LA has 10 of their 21 in the same time frame. It is also when both sides have shown some weakness on defense, RSL has allowed 5 of their 15 goal allowed in the final 15 minutes of matches, but LA has allowed 9 of their 15 allowed in the final 15 minutes. Yes, both sides have scored 21 and allowed 15 goals so far this season.
If it is consistency that RSL has found of late, 4-1-1 in their last 6 matches with multiple goals scored in 5 of them, then LA’s recent performances have to be described as erratic, 2-4-0 in their last 6 with some of the most puzzling scorelines of the season. After a 3-1 loss at Vancouver, they rebound with a 4-1 win at Philly, then after thumping Seattle 4-0 at Home they get beat last weekend 5-0 by the New England Revolution. Historically there are few head to head matchups that are a close as RSL vs LA, each side has 9 wins against the other with 5 draws and RSL holds a slight 38 to 35 edge in goals scored. In Utah RSL has a 4-3-4 record against LA with just a 19 to 17 goals scored advantage.
Robbie Findley – It has been interesting listening to some RSL fans moan and complain about Robbie, not unexpected, but interesting as few of them knew the behind the scenes injury issues he has been dealing with. Of course most of those folks have been quiet the last couple of matches with two goals and one assist in RSL’s last 3 matches. As RSL head coach Jason Kreis said last week, it looks like Robbie is finally healthy and finding his form, and if that is the case and he can stay in form and healthy it is a very good thing for RSL. His ability to partner with Sabo, Plata or whoever else RSL puts up top with him is outstanding as Robbie now is a player who understands how to create chances for himself as well as his teammates. I really believe the best is yet to come from Robbie Findley.
Javier Morales – I have been waiting, and not always been the most patient about it, waiting to see if we would ever see the pre-injury Javier Morales, don’t get me wrong he has had some great moments since returning to the team late in 2011 but he wasn’t the same. In the last few weeks we have gone from selected moments of seeing Javi dominate matches the way he used to, to seeing extended periods when he has forced his will on our opponents. That is what he used to do, and when he does it, it changes RSL, it opens up chances for others, it changes how opponents play against us, and it simply makes RSL a better team. It is a long MLS season, but hopefully we see that old school Javi on Saturday, he has 5 goals and 5 assists in his 12 matches played against the LA Galaxy, I look for him to add to that total.
Mike Magee – Yes you saw that, for RSL one of the highlights of this series has to be that Mike Magee is no longer with the LA Galaxy, his 3 goals and 1 assist in 650 minutes of regular season action are only part of the story. Mike Magee simply was one of those guys that showed up big in big matches, and that often was against RSL. Without Mike Magee on their roster, the Galaxy only have one player who has ever scored more than one goal against RSL, so for me I now count Mike Magee as one of the good guys.
Landon Donovan – Since returning to the Galaxy after his extended vacation Landon has played in 9 matches for the team and has 2 goals and 3 assists, typical Landon numbers, what hasn’t been so typical is the fact that he hasn’t really dominated matches the way most of us are used to seeing him do. I think a lot of the inconsistency the Galaxy have had this year mirrors the inconsistency of Landon Donovan, he didn’t play the last time LA came to Rio Tinto, so this will be our first live look at him and it will be interesting how he plays given the team’s loss last weekend. Love him or hate him, Landon is a RSL killer over the years, in 16 regular season matches against RSL he has 8 goals and 8 assists and that is nothing to laugh at.
Gyasi Zardes – It didn’t surprise many people when the LA Galaxy signed Zardes as a home grown player, had he been allowed to go into the MLS draft most people thought he was a sure number on pick. However don’t think that just because he is a HGP that he came cheap to the Galaxy, his salary will top $170K this year. He also is 21 and while that isn’t old for a first year MLS player it is a bit older than most HGP’s, but at 6’1″ he brings great size and incredible speed to go with his goal scoring abilities. He only has one MLS goal in the 6 matches he has seen action in, but he did score 33 goals in 37 college matches the last two years. He is projected to get the start on Saturday, so keep your eyes open for him.
Carlo Cudicini – Well perhaps one of the strangest off season moves by the Galaxy was releasing their two time MLS Cup winning keeper Josh Saunders in favor of a 39 yr old Carlo Cudicini. Now granted the Italian comes with an impressive resume from his time in Europe but he is almost 40, and one has to wonder if now with his 5-5-2 record and one of the worst save percentages (53%) in MLS if LA might think they made a mistake. I am not sure what Saunders was due to make in 2013 but the Galaxy are paying Cudicini a reported $150,000 this year and so far he looks like an expensive mistake to me, and I hope RSL can add to his goalkeeping woes.
The methods are so different, but the results are so similar – If there is one thing that has been clear since RSL joined MLS, they were going to do things differently than many clubs, in part due to the market they are in, and in part due to the attitude of their owner and staff. Perhaps no team takes what would appear to be a different path than the LA Galaxy, again the root causes are market size, attitude, and philosophy. It is clear that for a lot of RSL (and MLS) fans that the LA Galaxy are the enemy, not just when facing your team but every week, I documented some of the reason for that “Hate LA” mentality earlier in the week. Still you can’t deny the back to back MLS Cup wins, you can’t deny that 4th star above their crest, or that they are the flagship of MLS around the world, they are after all Hollywood. So big names, with solid supporting casts are what they have built, and with an ownership group that is known for entertainment ventures, what else could we ever have expected.
So while RSL under the leadership of Dave Checketts (and now Dell Loy Hansen), Bill Manning, Garth Lagerwey, and Jason Kreis have lived their motto of “The Team is the Star” and it has brought them a level of success that any small market team in any sport would be proud of, they all are still hungry. They are joined by the players, some of whom connect so strongly with the community that they remain in Salt Lake after they are done playing, and while the roster has changed a lot since 2009, the hunger of the players to show what they can do and to win is still there. Built without the bright lights of the bigger markets, or the budgets that followed, RSL built around good players who are good guys, which has evolved into the RSL Family. That connection between the staff, the players, and the fans is something that makes all involved stronger, we may not sell 30K tickets, or supporter groups with decades of history, but that is OK with us, we know what we are, we know who we are, and we know that the best is yet to come.
Perhaps no two teams are more polar opposites than RSL and LA, but both have found a level of success in MLS that is the envy of most teams. Only 3 teams in MLS history have ever had 3 straight 50 point seasons, DC United (05-07) and RSL and LA over the last 3 seasons and both are on a path to become the only teams to have 4 straight 50 point seasons (based on current PPM averages). So from their 9-9-5 all time record against each other, to overall MLS success these two teams that are built so very differently, who have such different ways of doing things, are so very, very similar.
My Prediction – So which LA Galaxy team will show up? Do we see the team that dominated and embarrassed the Sounders a couple weeks ago, or the team that was laughed off the field last weekend by New England? We know that LA doesn’t need to roll out their big names to be successful, who the hell are Charlie Rugg and Brian Rowe? They are the guys that we game changers last time these two sides faced off, and neither will probably be involved much this time around. RSL hates to lose, they really hate to lose at home, and they really, really hate to be embarrassed at home, so look for a lot of energy and passion from the home side on Saturday. The question is can they keep that focused on the task at hand? I think so, we have seen RSL look very solid over the last couple of matches, 8 goals scored and just 2 given up. With Nick Rimando getting ready for some USMNT action, you know he will be fired up to pick up clean sheet 108.
I think RSL will get an early goal, something LA doesn’t give up often, but without Omar Gonzalez, RSL could make them pay early. As in most matches, whoever scores first most often wins, RSL is 6-1-2 when they score first, 1-4-1 when they give up the first goal. The LA Galaxy haven’t come from behind to win all season, they are 0-5-0 when giving up the first goal but 6-0-2 when scoring first. This one ends up a 2-0 RSL win with an early goal and one late in the match just to even up the season series.
That’s How I See It