CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano provides his Three Points to the LA’s Western Conference Second Leg against Real Salt Lake. A victory or draw on Thursday would see the Galaxy advance to a fifth-straight Western Conference Championship.
BE READY FOR THE PRESSURE…
A one-goal deficit is not insurmountable for Real Salt Lake, but with the home crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium behind them, RSL are expected to be highly active from the get-go as they look to pin the LA Galaxy in their own defensive third.
Just how the Galaxy deal with the pressure will decide who advances to the Western Conference Championship. Fueled by the crowd and looking to level the series right away, the Galaxy are expected to be under pressure from the opening whistle as Salt Lake seek to control the tempo and press from the start. Much like the latter stages of LA’s 1-0 win at StubHub Center on Sunday, Salt Lake will be expected to return to their midfield diamond formation and create opportunities for Javier Morales to distribute to wingers Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez as well as Alvaro Saborío.
The best example of how to brace for such an onslaught comes in LA’s 1-1 draw with Seattle Sounders FC in their MLS regular season finale on Oct. 27. After Robbie Keane leveled the score late in the second half, Seattle pressed the issue racking up multiple chances in the closing minutes. However, unlike earlier in the season when the Galaxy buckled under the pressure on set pieces and transition play, the Galaxy held firm to earn a vital point that earned them their date with RSL. They’ll need more of the same if they’re to earn a result at Rio Tinto on Thursday.
..THEN HIT BACK ON THE COUNTER
Real Salt Lake may be expected to dictate the pace of the second leg against the LA Galaxy, but the two-time defending MLS Cup champions’ ability to hit back in transition will serve as their greatest weapon on Thursday.
RSL’s desire to level the score early will lead to numerous chances for the home side, but at times on Sunday, the Galaxy found success by breaking up possession in their own defensive third and then spraying passes forward for pacey wingers Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers. The two midfielders should serve as the primary connections as the Galaxy seek to create dangerous situations for Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane up field.
During the first leg, both Keane and Donovan had several looks at goal, but in the end poor finishing prevented LA from extending their aggregate lead. On Sunday, the Galaxy will once again have chances in the final third, but their ability to make RSL pay will determine the outcome of the match and the series.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Alvaro Saborío vs. Omar Gonzalez
It doesn’t get any better than this, the battle of the two twin towers could decide which team gets a berth in the Western Conference Championship.
Omar Gonzalez will have his hands full as he attempts to deal with the wily Saborío, who will likely have support from a second forward—possibly Joao Plata or Devon Sandoval—as Salt Lake are expected to abandon the one striker set that they used in the first leg. During the first leg, Gonzalez limited Saborio to just two shots—only one of which on goal—in an ineffective 79 minute shift, but with the support of an additional attacker and RSL needing a goal, the Costa Rican is expected to test Gonzalez as well as central defender Kofi Opare on Thursday.
Another aspect will be the ability for both teams to contain Saborío and Gonzalez on set pieces. Both represent major targets for their respective sides, but neither found success in the first leg. On set piece opportunities, both are expected to be the targets of physical play from the opposition defenses, which will attempt to limit their effectiveness.
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com