CARSON, Calif. – Revenge is the last thing on the LA Galaxy’s mind as they prepare for Saturday’s first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah (5 p.m., NBC Sports).
But one couldn’t blame them for thinking that way.
There is, for example, the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake at StubHub Center in the regular-season opener on March 8. It turned out to be the Galaxy’s lone home loss of the season.
Particularly upsetting was last year’s conference semifinals, which Real Salt Lake won 2-1 on aggregate, thanks to a 2-0 victory at home in the second leg courtesy of Chris Schuler’s goal in the 102nd minute.
Galaxy players insist it’s time to start over. There’s no retribution as far as they’re concerned.
“For me personally I don’t think about revenge or stuff like that,” said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, who missed last Sunday’s season finale in Seattle with a strained left hamstring but returned to full training this week. “I never think about what happened in the past; I’m not that kind of person.
“For me it’s just another completely different game. I’m certainly not concerned about what happened in the past. We’ve beaten them in the past, they’ve beaten us in the past.”
Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan couldn’t have agreed more.
“Not for me,” he said about a possible revenge factor. “I can’t speak for everyone. It’s a new year, it’s different.
“We’ll approach it just like we would if it was a different team.”
The Galaxy, trying to become the first MLS team to win five championship trophies, will host the rematch on Sunday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at StubHub Center (ESPN2). But before they reach that point they must play their postseason opener against a team that has given them fits over the years.
The Galaxy are 11-11-6 all-time against Real Salt Lake in the regular season and 2-1-1 in playoff games. Saturday’s meeting also will mark the fourth time the clubs have faced each other this season, with the series standing at 1-1-1.
Real Salt Lake is led by Joao Plata’s team-high 13 goals and six assists. Javier Morales has nine goals and 12 assists and Alvaro Saborio has eight goals. Veteran Nick Rimando has seven shutouts in goal. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena called him “perhaps the best goalkeeper in the league.”
Donovan said there is a lot to be impressed with regarding their opponent.
“Teams that have been together a long time know each other very well, and they do things consistently well,” he said. “Some days they’re great. Rarely, rarely do you see them ever have a bad day. If they’re not great they’re solid in all areas.
“They have a lot of players who have a lot of experience in this league. They know how to play at this time and that’s what makes them difficult to play against.”
The Galaxy, who also will welcome back central defender Omar Gonzalez, who missed the last game after being red-carded the week before against Seattle, feel they’re primed for a long playoff run.
“Yeah, I think we’re more prepared,” said Keane, whose 19 goals were third in MLS behind New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips (27 goals) and Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer (22). “A better squad of players, more experienced players who understand how the playoffs go.”
Added Donovan, “I think we were a little young and a little naïve in a few places last year. Gyasi (Zardes) has grown up a lot this year, Robbie (Rogers) started in that (playoff) game but wasn’t what he’s become this year. Other guys are a year older and a year more experienced.
“I think we’re in a much better position. We feel a lot better going into this series.”
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS - FIRST LEG
REAL SALT LAKE v LA GALAXY
Sat., Nov. 1, Rio Tinto Stadium (6 p.m. MT; NBCSN)
For a second year running, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy meet in the Western Conference Semifinals, as the clubs face off in the first leg of their series Saturday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium. A year ago, Real eventually advanced to the MLS Cup Final, a run that began with a come-from-behind series win against the Galaxy. RSL come into this year's postseason having not allowed a goal in more than 5 hours, undefeated in their last three games. The Galaxy are winless in their last three, their bid for the Supporters' Shield put to rest following a season-ending 2-0 defeat at Seattle last weekend.
Which team will win in the Knockout Round?
RSL 11 wins, 45 goals … LA 11 wins, 42 goals … Ties 6
LA 1 win, 2 goals … RSL 1 win, 2 goals … Ties 1
AT RIO TINTO STADIUM:
3/22: RSL 1, LA 1 (Saborio 19 – Keane 34)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS:
LA 2 wins, 5 GF … RSL 1 wins, 4 GF … Ties 1
REFEREE: Silviu Petrescu
AR1 (bench): Baboucarr Jallow
AR2 (opposite): Mike Rottersman
4th: Edvin Jurisevic
REAL SALT LAKE
- Real Salt Lake come into the playoffs not having allowed a goal in their last 313 minutes, since Oct. 5 -- the sixth-longest shutout streak in MLS this season. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando has been between the posts for the last two.
- “Three straight shutouts and I think the fight has been good for us. The battle is like what you’re looking for when you’re making a playoff run, so we’re heading in the right direction,” said defender Nat Borchers. Said RSL head coach Jeff Cassar: “We're not scared of anyone. This group of guys knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. And you can see in the last three games where we're really amped it up a little bit.”
- For the second consecutive year and the third time in the last four seasons, Real and the LA Galaxy will meet in the MLS Cup Playoffs. A year ago, RSL won the quarterfinal series between the clubs 2-1 on aggregate.
- “I've been telling these guys already – the storybook ending is probably [for] LA to play New York in [the MLS Cup final].” Kyle Beckerman said. “And we've got to just change the story and create a new storyline that has us going to the finals and win it.”
- Real also extended their winning streak at Rio Tinto Stadium to six matches with the season-ending 2-0 win against Chivas USA, and their home undefeated streak to 10 games overall.
- "We’re in the same region again and unfortunately a couple of teams had an awesome year, so we find ourselves a little lower in the standings going into the playoffs, but the only time we ever won a championship was when we were in a lower seed," said defender Chris Wingert. "The postseason takes on a life of its own and we’re going to have to reset our goals and just kind of prepare as best we can."
- Alvaro Saborio did return to the RSL lineup for the season finale, his first start in three games, and his third start since mid-May after returning from injury. He scored his second goal in that stretch, converting a penalty kick.
- "I think we probably made less changes to the group than we have had any other year since I’ve been here, and we’ve probably made less changes than any other team in the league, so I think that when we have a veteran core like that, you can lean on those guys," said Ned Grabavoy.
- The Galaxy come into the postseason without a win in their last three matches, their longest streak in league play without a victory since going 0-2-2 from April 19-May 17.
- "We are OK with the way we played [vs. Seattle]." said Landon Donovan. "We just needed to find a goal and that that let us down but overall an excellent performance. And obviously results matter and it’s hard to lose but I think we can we can be confident with how we played.”
- The Galaxy were also shut out in the season finale for the first time in league play since May 17 -- a stretch of 25 consecutive games with a goal. They led MLS with 69 goals scored this season; they were shut out just four times, fewest in MLS -- but once was by Real Salt Lake.
- "It doesn't matter who we play. We don't play those little games of payback. We play to try and win a championship," said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena.
- Robbie Keane was kept out of the season finale in Seattle, ending his season with 19 league goals, third-most in MLS this season. "He is the best player in the league so when you are missing that, that’s going to hurt you. That’s probably where we were lacking little bit, a little bit of a special quality in the final third," said Landon Donovan. "And when we have him in there he provides that so we’re confident that having him in there, having Omar [Gonzalez] back next week that we will look a little bit different."
- The Galaxy are back in the MLS Cup Playoffs for a sixth consecutive year, while RSL are in for a seventh. The Galaxy hold the MLS record with 10 consecutive playoff appearances from 1996-2005.
- "We gave up too many points earlier in the year and it came back to hurt us now. Everything is wiped clean and it’s a clean slate and whoever's the best team after five games is going to be holding the trophy at the end of the postseason,” Donovan said.
- The Galaxy have also lost their last two road matches, and haven't won away from Carson in four games. They have not lost at StubHub Center since the season-opening defeat by RSL.
- “Motivation we need every time we lose, we are going to take it and build on it," said defender A.J. DeLaGarza. "... It is going to be an away game first so we need to go and get a result.”