CARSON, Calif. -- Ahead of tonight's Western Conference Semifinal First Leg, I provide a few last minute links and matchups to watch as well as my prediction.
*Todd Dunivant is hopeful that he'll be back on the field against LA and is likely to lineup against the emerging Kofi Opare.
*No two players will be more important for LA in their series against Real Salt Lake than Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho.
*LAGalaxy.com's Larry Morgan's preview of LA vs. RSL.
*Lastly, my Three Points to the game
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
MARCELO SARVAS AND JUNINHO vs. KYLE BECKERMAN AND JAVIER MORALES
The match and the series will be won in the center of the park between these four players. Their ability to clean up second balls, break up opposing attacks as well as spark counters will be vital.
KOFI OPARE vs. ALVARO SABORIO
A rookie against the veteran typically favors the more experienced player, but Opare has done well in matchups against the likes of Eddie Johnson and Steven Lenhart in recent weeks.
GYASI ZARDES vs. TONY BELTRAN
Zardes' speed will be vital with dealing with the intelligent Beltran, who will also look to go forward early.
LA Galaxy 3 Real Salt Lake 1. Goals from Keane (2), Zardes, and Plata
CARSON, Calif. – One of the most surprising aspects of the LA Galaxy’s recent run to the postseason has been the emergence of rookie center back Kofi Opare.
The 23-year-old defender has started the last five matches for the Galaxy since filling in for the injured Leonardo on Sept. 29. Even though the Brazilian has returned to full fitness, Opare has held the position with his intelligent play alongside center back Omar Gonzalez.
Associate head coach Dave Sarachan admitted that Opare’s rise truly began at the MLS Combine when the Galaxy spotted a talented, but raw defender from Michigan.
“It’s a little surprising. At the combine, we saw a guy who was a little raw, but he was purely a centerback. He wasn’t a guy where we were going to say that ‘maybe we can convert him into something else’ and we needed a center back,” said Sarachan. “We thought that he was a couple that stood out as far as his pure defending; now all the other stuff, dealing with pressure, playing at the next level was a mystery. I think that he’s grown in the position by getting reserve games and training with [the back four] and he’s just accelerated. He’s got a brain for it as well.”
Opare will need to use that wily nature on Sunday when he takes on RSL forward Alvaro Saborio, who will be expected to test the rookie from the start.
“From what I know about Saborio is that he’s a physical striker. He has very good technique. He definitely is one of the target stars on the team so it’s definitely not going to be easy going up against him but I think throughout the week the players and coaching staff are going to educate me further on the way he plays and his tendencies so I’m looking forward to that matchup if I am fortunate to start the weekend.”
CARSON, Calif. – During the LA Galaxy’s run to back-to-back MLS Cup titles, former LA attacker Mike Magee’s ability to step up when needed was crucial, but now with Magee currently playing for the Chicago Fire, the Galaxy will look for someone else to add to the offensive output of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
And the most likely candidate to step into this role is none other than rookie forward turned left-sided midfielder Gyasi Zardes.
In 2013, Zardes notched four goals and four assists in this rookie season while tallying 78 shots in his 27 appearances, which means that Zardes averaged nearly three shots per game, a mark that is second to only Keane. Against Real Salt Lake, Zardes’ pace and physicality should make him a threat going forward against RSL’s right back Tony Beltran has struggled this season when dealing with pacey wide players.
“I just have to be aggressive going forward. That’s all I can do,” said Zardes. “We’ve played these guys three times and we know what they’re capable of, so we have a great feel for them.”
With a heap of pressure and responsibility expected to be piled on the rookie’s shoulders, it’d be understandable for him to be a bit nervous heading into the match, but Zardes admits that he’s ready for the challenge.
“There are no nerves,” Zardes said. “This is my first playoff game, but I’m going to treat it like every other game this season. I’m going to work extremely hard and pay attention to what my teammates say.”
In the latest video preview for LAGalaxy.com, videographer Paolo Ferrari catches up with Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane to preview the Western Conference Semifinal first leg against Real Salt Lake.
Check it out below...
CARSON, Calif. – Real Salt Lake’s midfield diamond is one of the defining aspects of the possession-oriented playing style that has led RSL to seven consecutive postseason experiences.
This season RSL head coach Jason Kreis has primarily turned to the quartet of Kyle Beckerman in the back, Javier Morales at the point, and Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy on the flanks. With the diamond, Salt Lake is able to control the tempo and create scoring opportunities that have helped Salt Lake to an MLS-best of 57 goals scored in 2013.
Even though the diamond is an identifying factor of RSL’s style of play, Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant admits that it is RSL’s fluidity with their formation that causes problems for opposing defenses.
“They like to unbalance you. They like to overload sides; they like to play out of position if you will. They don’t have traditional positions and their diamond turns into all sorts of shapes throughout the game,” said defender Todd Dunivant. “What that does is that pulls defenders out of position and causes chaos. They run in behind, their midfielders make late runs and they punish you so from that standpoint, we need to be good. We need to be talking all the time, shifting and [we need to] be disciplined.”
But just don’t count Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena among those who believe that formation will change the outcome of the first leg between LA and RSL.
“It has nothing to do with diamonds or any of that other stuff, it’s 11 against 11,” said Arena. “The shape of your midfield is usually based on the talents and skills of your players so they just pieced their formation based on the group they have in the midfield and to play off their strengths and weaknesses the right way.”
LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo excited for first playoff experience and chance to face Nick Rimando
CARSON, Calif. – Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo has been a major cog in the LA Galaxy’s second half resurgence and if they are to defend their MLS Cup for a third consecutive time, they’ll likely need to lean on their Panamanian shot stopper.
Penedo will make his debut in the MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday after a stellar season since being signed in August. Penedo ended the regular season with 24 saves, a goals against average of 0.78 and four shutouts in nine appearances.
The 32-year-old goalkeeper has plenty of playoff experience with Guatemalan side Municipal and his national team, but the tension of the MLS Cup playoffs will be a new test for Penedo, but one that he feels confident that he can overcome.
“I’m very blessed to be in this situation having just joined the team and having been able to be a part of the group is something that is really good,” Penedo told LA Galaxy Insider. “I would just like to keep it simple, the way I see it is we have five games to go for MLS Cup and we’re going to take it one at a time. . [Against Real Salt Lake] either going to be a game where it’s very open or very tight and that’s what we’ll have to deal with.”
In his first postseason performance, he’ll face veteran RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. In 2013, Rimando once again put forth a goalkeeper of the year type of season with 82 saves and a goals against average of 1.04 in 27 appearances.
Although Rimando may be new to the league, he’s excited for the opportunity to test himself against Rimando.
“I got the chance to play against him in the Gold Cup final,” said Penedo. “He’s a goalkeeper who’s not very tall but he’s very agile with his feet. I don’t know him personally but it looks like he’s a very confident goalkeeper.”
CARSON, Calif. – A right MCL sprain has kept Todd Dunivant on the shelf for the LA Galaxy’s last two league matches, but with the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs set to begin, the left back is moving ever closer to returning to the field.
Dunivant suffered the injury during the closing stages of LA’s victory over the Montreal Impact on Oct. 16 and missed the team’s remaining two regular season matches as well as their CONCACAF Champions League group stage finale against Isidro Metapán. On Friday, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena confirmed that Dunivant trained fully with the club on Thursday and Friday with an eye to allowing him to be available for selection against RSL.
The defender himself gave no assurance that he’ll be back in action, but did admit that his condition is improving.
“It’s been good. I've been working really hard to come back ahead of schedule and it’s been good,” said Dunivant, who admitted the injury diagnosis was initially more severe. “I think fitness wise I’m doing pretty well and now it’s just getting the confidence back with cutting and the lateral stuff. I’m pushing to try and be ready for Sunday. “
The Galaxy will need Dunivant at full strength against an RSL attack that boasts an array of weapons from target forward Alvaro Saborio, tricky attacker Joao Plata as well as midfielders Javier Morales, Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy.
“You can’t hobble into the playoffs and Greg has done a good job filling in as well. We have options so that’s a good thing. RSL brings a lot of firepower… so we've got a lot to deal with,” said Dunivant. “They have a lot [in the attack] and there’s a reason that they were in the hunt for the Supporters’ Shield this season. This is a grizzled playoff team that knows how to win in November.”
CARSON, Calif. -- In the latest edition of "View from the Booth" Cobi Jones and Joe Tutino preview Sunday's Western Conference Semifinal first leg between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake.
Check it out below...
CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane has put forth an MLS MVP type season in 2013, but will that earn LA’s Irish captain the honor?
During the regular season, Keane tallied 16 goals and 11 assists this season for the Galaxy in just 22 games played while missing time due to international duty and injury. Keane also joined Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri in being the only players to finish with double digit goals and assists.
When the Irishman was on the field, his presence was felt as LA went 12-7-4 in his 22 games while falling to a disappointing 3-8-0 when he was missing. Even though Keane has had quite the impact on LA’s fortunes this season, the Galaxy captain remains modest about his chances for the individual honor—instead focusing on larger aspirations.
“Not for me to say. It depends what MVP means. If it is most valuable player which it is and what you do for the team, it’s about scoring the most goals then no?” said Keane. “If I get it great, it’s always nice to get accolades, but if I don’t then I certainly won’t any sleep over it. It’s about championships. The MVP means nothing if you don’t win things. If you win the championships then I don’t care. … It’s not something that I’m too concerned really.”
As for alternatives to Keane, two names earning the most publicity as of late are Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill, each of whom the Irishman lauded for their stellar showings in 2013.
But the question is: who is the 2013 MLS MVP? Vote below.
CARSON, Calif. – We’re inching ever closer to the LA Galaxy’s clash with Real Salt Lake , but as we prepare to analyze the midfield diamonds, counterattacks and crushing tackles that are emblematic of matches between the two sides, let’s look at the series by the numbers.
Check it out below…
*ZERO— The number of two-leg, aggregate goals series played between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. Both postseason contests were one-off matches with the Galaxy leading by a 1-0-1 margin.
*THREE of FOUR – The LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake have three of the last four MLS Cup titles with RSL defeating LA in 2009 before LA rattled off two straight in 2011 and 2012. The lone team to win the club in recent years that wasn’t LA or RSL was the Colorado Rapids in 2010.
*THREE – Times that Real Salt Lake have gone 10 or more days between games and their record after a layoff is 2-0-1. Both wins were by multiple goals with RSL defeating Seattle on June 22 after a 10 day off and FC Dallas 3-0 after another 10 day gap. Their lone draw came after 14 days between games a 0-0 draw with Portland. By game time on Sunday, RSL will have gone 10 days between games.
*3.4— Average number of saves per game by Nick Rimando, who has 93 saves in 27 games against the LA Galaxy. In games against RSL since 2009, the Galaxy have used a total of four different goalkeepers against Salt Lake: Donovan Ricketts, Josh Saunders, Brian Rowe, and Jaime Penedo.
*FIVE— The number of goals scored by Javier Morales against the LA Galaxy. The Argentine midfielder is the team’s leading scorer against LA while also adding nine assists. Second is Robbie Findley with four goals against his former club.
*10—The number of goals scored by Landon Donovan against Real Salt Lake. He is the team leader with goals against RSL while Robbie Keane is second with five goals against the Utahans.
*11-10-6 – The overall record between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake in regular season and postseason play.
*7-6-5— Bruce Arena’s record in all MLS competitions against Real Salt Lake.
*5-1-1— The LA Galaxy’s record against RSL when leading at the half. The lone draw came in the 2009 MLS Cup when RSL won in penalty kicks. The Galaxy are 7-6-4 when being tied at the half with RSL and 0-2-0 when trailing at the half.
*7-0-1—Real Salt Lake’s record when leading the Galaxy at the half.