You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining match-up this early in the season when the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake collide on Saturday night. RSL and LA have been two of the most consistent teams in MLS over the past two years, RSL raising the MLS Cup in 2009, and LA capturing the Supporters' Shield in 2010. The tough reality for Galaxy fans though is that RSL has had the better results between the teams in recent times; even beyond the MLS title game two years ago. LA has won just once in nine contests dating back to early 2007 with that win coming last year at The HDC.
This trip Rio Tinto brings more than just a chance for LA to earn another three points. Heading to RSL’s fortress in Sandy, Utah also presents an opportunity for some revenge for the Galaxy. You may recall that LA was riding a 12-match unbeaten streak last year, when a controversial goal by Javier Morales earned RSL a 1-0 win in early June. For fans in Utah, seeing RSL win games at home is not an unfamiliar site. Real have now gone 35 matches without a defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium in all competitions. While Saturday’s game will be just the second game for RSL in MLS play this year, the team has already had three other meaningful games in 2011 in the CONCACAF Champions League. The message – Jason Kreis already has this team at a very high level early in the year. Can the Galaxy match that level?
LA has not played at an incredibly high level so far this year in their first two games of the season. Still the Galaxy find themselves with four of a possible six points to open the year. As impressive as it was for LA to go to Seattle and win the game under tough conditions, it was equally disappointing to earn a draw in the home opener against New England. The Galaxy dominated every aspect of the game against the Revs, yet giving up the early goal to a young team still left LA with just a point at the end of the match. Yes the Revs were under a lot of pressure in the final 15 minutes of the game, but goalkeeper Matt Reis didn’t have to make any “bonus saves” in those final minutes, though I think that the driving rain may have played some part in that as well.
Expect some great battles in the midfield on Saturday. Both teams are stacked in this area of the field. Where centrally RSL might have a slight edge with Beckerman and Morales, LA will have the edge in a wide position with Beckham and likely Paolo Cardozo on the left in place of Landon Donovan. Chris Birchall will have to follow Javier Morales anywhere he goes. Birchall keeping his cool all night will be an important detail to watch. This game will also be an opportunity for Cardozo to get extended minutes. I thought he did well in his first appearance with LA as a second half substitute against the Revs.
Yes, Galaxy fans have to be cautious that Landon Donovan will be away on National Team duty, but RSL fans should have bigger concerns that Alvaro Saborio will be away with Costa Rica. Saborio is a hand full for defenders, and he works so well with Morales in the midfield finding space to receive the ball. Will Johnson(Canada) and newcomer Arturo Alvarez(El Salvador) will also be away on national team duty. The missing Internationals will hurt RSL more than LA.
Lastly, I expect Juan Pablo Angel to make his first start for LA. With Donovan gone, this is an incredible chance for Angel to show exactly why Bruce Arena brought him in, to score goals. The Colombian really did not get the chance to show much as a substitute the other night due to the conditions. It will be cold again this weekend, though it should stay dry throughout the game, but I expect Angel to heat things up on the field and get his first goal for the Galaxy.