Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Playoff Clash Is About More Than the USMNT Stars

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistOctober 31, 2013

Aug 17, 2013; Carson, CA, USA;  Los Angeles Galaxy forward Robbie Keane (7) and Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran (2) in the first half at the StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

When the Western Conference playoff matchup between No. 2 Real Salt Lake and the third-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy was announced, the initial thought of American fans was that they would see plenty of their brightest national team stars on display. 

While it is true that Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez should all be playing in Sunday's first leg at the StubHub Center, there are some underrated players from other nations that could be the key contributors in the playoff matchup. 

Perhaps the biggest cog in the Galaxy machine this season has been their Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who was the final piece to the team's puzzle after being added following the CONCACAF Gold Cup. 

Oct 20, 2013; Carson, CA, USA;  Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo (18) moves into position top try to make a stop against the San Jose Earthquakes during second half action at StubHub Center. The match ended in a 0-0 tie. Mandatory Credit: Robert
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

Penedo replaced former Tottenham Hotspur keeper Carlo Cudicini, who put together a miserable debut season in Major League Soccer before the Panama international took over. 

Another massive part of the Galaxy's success is due to the play of Brazilian midfielders Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, who as a duo have provided the two-time defending MLS Cup champions with stability and class in the middle of the pitch all season. 

Lest we forget the stellar play of Irishman Robbie Keane, who is an international superstar in his own right. 

In his second season as a designated player, Keane scored 16 goals and recorded 11 assists as he powered the Galaxy attack while Donovan was off representing the Yanks at the Gold Cup. 

In the last game between the two sides, it was Keane who led the Galaxy to a 4-2 victory with a hat-trick back on August 17.

Los Angeles manager Bruce Arena also has some young Americans, who have not yet broken the surface of the national team, to rely on in Gyasi Zardes, Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean—all three of whom are homegrown players. 

Jason Kreis' Real Salt Lake team also features a diverse international contingent that begins with Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio. 

Also roaming the pitch on a regular basis for the Claret and Cobalt are Ecuadorian forward Joao Plata and Cuban midfielder Yordany Alvarez. 

Of the three players, Saborio is clearly the marquee name as he has been one of the best goalscorers in North America over the last few years. He netted a team-high 12 goals in the regular season.

While Saborio may receive all of the attention, Plata has also been a vital part of the attack as he has scored four goals and recorded eight assists in 29 games played; he started in 19 of those games. 

Another international star that is a major part of RSL's success is Javier Morales. The Argentinian midfielder was second on the team's scoring list with eight goals this season.

Jun 26, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio (15) scores a goal during the second half of a U.S. Open Cup match against the Carolina Railhawks at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If you thought that RSL did not have any American talent other than Rimando, Beckerman and Beltran, well you thought wrong. 

The Claret and Cobalt have a burgeoning star in 19-year-old midfielder Luis Gil, who scored against Spain at the U-20 FIFA World Cup last summer in Turkey. 

The Utah club also have a forward in Robbie Findley, who before his excursion to England for three years, was a constant in the national team discussion. 

With all that being said, when you tune into Sunday's first leg and the return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday, there will be quality at every position on the pitch.

Compared to the other three semifinal matchups in MLS, the quality in this Western Conference showdown is not comparable; it is by far the best, and both teams should not leave fans wanting more when the true winner is decided on Thursday night. 

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90. 


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