CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano provides his Three Points to the LA’s Western Conference First Leg against Real Salt Lake. This season, the Galaxy won the season series with Salt Lake 2-1-0 including a 4-2 victory over RSL at the StubHub Center in August.
TIME TO STEP UP
The second season has begun for the LA Galaxy and their ability to rise to the occasion will determine whether or not their quest for a third consecutive MLS Cup is successful.
LA will have the opportunity to open up the postseason with a flourish at StubHub Center in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal as they host RSL looking to put a stamp on the series before it heads to Rio Tinto Stadium for the return leg. The Galaxy have shined at home during the postseason going 9-2-0 since ending a three year absence from the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2009. Expected to be attack minded from the get-go on Sunday, the Galaxy will look to utilize forwards Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who have combined for 19 goals and eight assists in postseason play during their Galaxy careers.
They’ll take on an experienced Real Salt Lake side that compiled a 6-7-4 record away from Rio Tinto Stadium this season while setting a club record for road points with 23. Salt Lake has also had their share of success in Carson over the years with a 5-7-1 record against the Galaxy including wins in two of their last three matches.
DEFENSIVE SHAPE KEY TO GALAXY GAME PLAN
The midfield diamond of Real Salt Lake is one of the distinguishing traits of Jason Kreis’ side, but if LA are to be successful on Sunday, they’ll need to unsettle Salt Lake in the center of the park.
In 2013, RSL tallied a league-best 57 goals with the midfield foursome of the attack-minded Javier Morales, flank players Luis Gil and Ned Grabavoy, and defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman serving as the team’s engine room. Where they’ve had the most success this season is in their ability to constantly shift positions, unhinging opposing defenses and opening up space in the attack. Salt Lake’s offensive style is particularly suited to the wide field at StubHub Center, but the task of shutting down the RSL attack will fall on the shoulders of LA’s Brazilian midfield duo of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas. From the outset, the Galaxy will need the duo to cover considerable ground and break up possession in order to prevent Salt Lake from establishing a rhythm offensively.
Preventing the possession-oriented Salt Lake from managing the tempo will be key for the Galaxy, who have enjoyed plenty of success over the years, disrupting RSL and then hitting them on the counterattack. When LA move forward in transition expect the Galaxy to utilize the pace of Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers to push ahead and create pressure on the RSL defense.
SET PIECES KEY FOR BOTH SIDES
In the pivotal first leg, the LA Galaxy will need be mindful of one of their primary struggles this season – defending set pieces—as they look to keep a dangerous Real Salt Lake side off the board.
RSL were deadly from set pieces this season, tallying 12 times—which ties them with the New York Red Bulls for the best mark among teams remaining in the MLS Cup Playoffs—while allowing nine goals from set pieces. In comparison, the Galaxy scored just seven times for set pieces while allowing 13 goals, which is in itself the worst mark of the remaining playoff teams.
As LA look to put the brakes on Salt Lake, they’ll need a strong performance from Omar Gonzalez, who will be charged with stopping RSL’s primary target on dead ball opportunities, forward Alvaro Saborío. On the attacking end, the Galaxy have their own weapons as they will be expected to rely on the towering Gonzalez and rookie Kofi Opare to serve as targets on corner kicks.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com