Real Salt Lake will kick off their 2014 season like almost every other season, with a match away from home, but that hasn’t proven to be a task they aren’t able to handle. Can RSL pick up their 5th straight opening day road win? To do so they will need to beat rival side LA.
A lot of people think that sports rivalries, especially those in MLS are all about geography but if you don’t think that RSL vs LA is a rivalry, despite what some of the Galaxy players might tell you, or how MLS might promote the match, well then you clearly haven’t looked at the definition of the word lately, let me help you out:
For the last 4 seasons both the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake have won at least 15 matches and scored at least 50 points, a feat that no other MLS team has ever done before (post shoot out era), two of those years the Galaxy finished higher in the table than RSL and twice it was RSL who finished with a better position. Since 2009 the teams have played for 5 MLS Cups combined, and won it 3 times.
Heck since RSL joined MLS 10 years ago the teams have fought 25 times in the regular season and the competition couldn’t be more equal with each side winning 10 matches and 5 draws. The competition actually goes beyond the normal win at home type of MLS results, RSL has actually won 5 times in LA out of their 13 regular season matches, with 1 draw. It goes beyond the regular season, the teams have faced each other 3 times in the playoffs since 2009. RSL won the MLS Cup over LA in 2009, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference final, and last year RSL was able to get the win over the Galaxy in the semifinals.
So how will the teams match up on the opening weekend of the 2014 MLS season?
The match tactics are pretty clear when these two sides face off, can RSL get past the defend and counter of the LA Galaxy, and can the big guns of the Galaxy break down the possession style of RSL and crack the backline?
On the current Galaxy roster you can see the impact of their big guns, of the 15 goals scored by current LA players, 13 have been scored by either Landon Donovan(9) or Robbie Keane(4). So for RSL the task is to make the other LA player beat you, it could be Juninho who has 5 assists but no goals in his 10 matches against RSL, it could be second year player Gyasi Zardes who has size, pace and a creative flair that makes him very dangerous. Maybe it will be their new giant forward (6′ 5″) Rob Friend who was picked up this off-season, he has spent the last decade plus in Europe playing in both Germany and the Netherlands, or Samuel Rosa Gonçalves, the Brazilian forward they picked up on a loan from Fluminense? Clearly the Galaxy are looking to boost their offensive output but to be able to offer more looks to their lineup and formation. The Galaxy are always dangerous both of these new forwards could make them even more lethal.
RSL will look to do what they always do keep the ball and look for their chances, in the past that most often has meant Javier Morales who has 5 goals and 8 assists in his 14 regular season matches against LA. Javi is coming off one of the best seasons of his career last year where he had 8 goals and 10 assists. He has looked sharp this preseason and I expect that the familiarity of the RSL roster will allow him to rely on that as he looks for opportunities to slice and dice the Galaxy midfield and defense.
A huge question for RSL will be at centerback, it is likely that it will be young Carlos Salcedo starting next to veteran Nat Borchers, and last year Carlos struggled against Robbie Keane, but he is a year older and more experienced and should be looking to redeem his reputation a bit this time around. The match also will be the first for new RSL head coach Jeff Cassar, and while I doubt to many changes (other than injuries) from the starting lineup we saw most of last year, I do think you could see Jeff look to a couple of guys off the bench who had very solid preseason runs. That would be newly signed Luke Mulholland, who showed some great abilities in the midfield with super crosses and quality set piece deliveries, and Jordan Allen who’s ability to play multiple positions and to do so with both youthful energy and a bit of flair make him the type of player who could catch the Galaxy by surprise late in the match.
There is a lot of talk that the Galaxy players and coaches are really looking at this match as a final tuneup/warmup match before they hit the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League next week. I don’t know if that is the case but if it is then RSL should be ready to give them something to think about. However I think that the Galaxy players will want a little bit of revenge for being bounced from the playoffs last year, and Robbie Keane who was so rudely treated by Chris Schuler in the 2nd leg at Rio Tinto may be looking to return the favor to RSL’s backline.
For Real Salt Lake the emotions will be high, as the players look to start their season with a 5th straight opening day win and the first win for their new head coach. The start of the 2014 season will be brutal for RSL, with 4 of their first 6 on the road so a win over a Galaxy team that might be looking past them could provide a real spark to keep the guys positive as the adjustments to the new staff continue. RSL is a team lead by veterans, a core of guys who have been here for the last 5 years and that core will need to be rock steady for RSL to pick up a big road win.
So do I go with my head which says RSL would be fortunate to get a road draw against a great LA Galaxy team, or with my heart which believes RSL can win any match under any conditions? Yeah I think I go with my heart and look for RSL to pull out a 2-1 road win to make it 5 years with an opening day win on the road and to get Jeff Cassar his first MLS win as RSL’s head coach.
That’s How I See It