Los Angeles Galaxy captain Landon Donovan
LA Galaxy versus Real Salt Lake is far from just another Conference Final game.
It pits the MLS’s top two defensive teams—not to mention two of the top three point-earning teams—against each other, making this an MLS Cup-worthy contest. On top of that, this match is a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup Finals in which RSL defeated the Galaxy by way of penalty shootout.
The core of the Galaxy has remained largely intact since the 2009 Final and surely they have vivid and lingering bad memories of that loss in ’09. There would be no sweeter revenge than to beat RSL in the Western Conference Finals matchup at the Home Depot Center.
These two teams battled each other all year, even when they were not matched up against each other. They split their two regular season matches with each team winning at home. Although these are two of the finest defensive teams in the MLS, we should not assume that this will be a grind-it-out affair, because they combined to score a total of eight goals over their two head-to-head matchups.
The Galaxy had an easier time with their semifinal home-and-home series, having beaten the New York Red Bulls twice.
Salt Lake on the other hand had to withstand a barrage from the Seattle Sounders, who lost the first game 3-0 but won the second match 2-0. In a very emotional game played in Seattle, RSL hung on to defeat the Sounders by a 3-2 aggregate margin in the game that very well may have been the final one of Sounder goaltender Kasey Keller’s career.
The Galaxy will be playing at home while RSL will be playing their second consecutive road game only four days after their tightly contested loss in Seattle.
Another question for RSL will be the availability of both their starting center backs, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, who both went down with quadriceps strains. Although both have been listed as “Questionable” on the MLSsoccer.com injury report, their availability is still unknown until game time.
Regarding the injuries, on Friday's conference call Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said, “I’ll be honest with you—I’m expecting them to play. We’re planning on them playing.”
A possible wild card is Galaxy midfielder Juninho, who sat out the last game due to a red card suspension picked up in the postgame brawl against the Red Bulls. This means Juninho will be rested and ready to go; this might be a key factor in a game between two squads playing their third game in eight days.
The series between the Red Bulls and the Galaxy may have been the marquee matchup in the MLS playoffs—this one very well could be the game between the two best teams in the league.
One thing is for sure, David Beckham will be doing all he can to win the elusive MLS Cup title he’s been seeking the five years he’s played with the Galaxy. How winning a title may impact where he plays in the future isn't known, but one thing that can’t be argued is his impact on the LA Galaxy this year.
Whether it is enough remains to be seen.