Quest for Three: LA Galaxy steel themselves to face old postseason foe Real Salt Lake

“Beautiful matchup” expected in heated West Semifinal matchup between LA and RSL

Donovan_RSL_2011

Photo Credit: 
Robert Mora/LA Galaxy

The regular season is over and now the LA Galaxy’s  Quest for Three begins in earnest. Each week, LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano will discuss the upcoming match and its implications as the club looks to win a record third straight MLS Cup title. This week, we focus on postseason history and the playing style of LA’s Western Conference Semifinal foe, Real Salt Lake.

CARSON, Calif. –Now the real fun begins.

Following a wild MLS regular season, the dust has settled and the LA Galaxy have found themselves with the third seed in the Western Conference and a date with Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Semifinals. 

This season, the two West powers played three highly entertaining affairs with the Galaxy winning the season series 2-1-0, which included a 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium in late April using an understrength squad that included Brian Rowe and Charlie Rugg each making their MLS debuts and playing a pivotal role in the result. The two teams have fostered one of the more intense rivalries in MLS thanks to their previous playoff meetings with RSL earning their lone MLS Cup title by beating the Galaxy on penalties in 2009 in Seattle before the Galaxy exorcised the demons of that defeat two years later, knocking off RSL 3-1 in the 2011 Western Conference Championship.

That shared history should only serve to add to the intrigue in what promises to be a fierce matchup in the two-leg, aggregate goal series.

“It’s going to be a hell of a tough series for us,” said defender Todd Dunivant, who played every minute in each of LA’s previous playoff appearances against RSL. “This is a veteran team and they’ve got some new faces, but they’ve got enough veteran guys that have been around since their run started in 2009. They have a lot of experience and playoff savvy, so we’re expecting them to not sit back by any means, but they know how to weather the storm.”

Of the four other teams in the Western Conference playoffs, few have the commitment to attacking style as Jason Kreis’ RSL side. En route to a second place finish in the Western Conference, RSL tallied 57 goals, a mark second only to the MLS Supporters’ Shield winning New York Red Bulls.

 The Salt Lake attack is fueled by the two primary points of their midfield diamond in the attack-minded Javier Morales and defensive destroyer Kyle Beckerman.  Although Beckerman’s best asset is his ability to break up plays, he has also displayed a knack of sending in dangerous balls forward to the feet of Morales or fellow midfielders Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil to spark the counterattack.

While Alvaro Saborio scored a team-best 12 goals in just 16 MLS appearances this year, RSL’s attack is multi-faceted. However, it is their ability to combine in midfield and generate possession that leads to chances is RSL’s primary method of attack and something that LA will need to be mindful of, particularly on the vast StubHub Center field that suits RSL’s playing style well.

“It’s two games. If you don’t do your best or you save something for the next game then you’re out. You have to go with a lot of energy,” said midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who made his MLS postseason debut a year ago. “It’s a situation where in Sunday that we go to press and score goals, but we must be smart because [RSL] is a good team with good forwards, midfield, but I think that we can make the result at home. 

“It’s easier to play against good players because it’s the players that play because they like to have the ball and also, they give space and let you play,” added Sarvas. “I think that it’s a beautiful matchup.”

Attacking soccer will certainly be on display for both legs, but steeled by the experiences that have led them to consecutive MLS Cups, the Galaxy are confident of their ability to knock off RSL.

“I think that everyone is a little afraid to play us. I think there’s a little bit of fear to play the back-to-back champions,” said Robbie Rogers. “I think that people are a little afraid to come here [to StubHub Center] and that’s a good place to be.”

Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com