LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake: Key Issues That Will Shape MLS Semifinal Game

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistNovember 8, 2014

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake: Key Issues That Will Shape MLS Semifinal Game

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    After 90 minutes of scoreless play, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy will enter the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal with everything to play for. 

    RSL desperately tried to sneak out an advantage at home in the first leg, but LA 'keeper Jaime Penedo was too good in between the pipes at Rio Tinto Stadium. 

    Although they didn't score, Jeff Cassar's side did hold the Galaxy to zero goals, which is crucial given the institution of away goals for this season. 

    With so much left to play for at StubHub Center Sunday night, we opted to take a look at some of the key issues surrounding the star-studded affair. 

Can the Real Salt Lake Attack Break Down Jaime Penedo?

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    Jaime Penedo dazzled in net for the Galaxy in the first leg with six saves, including a leaping effort in the waning moments of the match on a shot by Javier Morales. 

    Real Salt Lake attempted a total of 16 shots in the 0-0 draw. In the second leg, we should expect to see them chase the game from the first minute on as they look for a crucial away goal. 

    If Penedo can carry his efforts from Saturday's match into the game at StubHub Center, he will hand the Galaxy an extra bit of momentum in search of their first goal in the series. 

    The key for the Claret and Cobalt is to beat the Panamanian early in the match in order to create a bit of panic in the LA back four. 

    Beating Penedo will not be easy, but it must be done if RSL want to keep their MLS Cup dream alive. 

The Galaxy's Attacking Production

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    The mighty Galaxy attack, which contains Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, fell quiet in the first-leg defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium. 

    After firing three shots on target in the final regular-season game of the year against Seattle, the Galaxy tested Nick Rimando with just one shot on goal last week. 

    By falling flat all of a sudden, the Galaxy are showing a bit of fatigue up front after putting in plenty of superb performances during the regular season. 

    If the Galaxy's top attackers do not show up again, Landon Donovan's playing career will be over, and the Galaxy's MLS Cup hopes will be dashed. 

    One has to think Donovan will come alive in what could be his final game, but based on the last two matches we aren't so sure of that anymore. 

Javier Morales' Influence on the Match

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    One attacking star that did show up in the first leg was Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales, who made five key passes and took three shots. 

    Say what you want about the importance of Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata up front, but it is Morales who is the true difference-maker in the RSL attack. 

    If Morales is at his best, the Claret and Cobalt usually smother opponents with a plethora of attacking chances, just like they did Saturday night in Utah. 

    Morales will look to replicate his performance from a week ago at StubHub Center, but if Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas limit his chances, the Galaxy could dominate the match. 

    Shutting down the Argentinian may actually take work from two players, and the central-midfield pairing for the Galaxy should be up to the task after a rough first 90 minutes in the 2014 playoffs. 

Center-Backs on Set Pieces

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    Set pieces almost always play a key role in big matches. And both sides have talented center-backs who can change the game with one flick of their heads. 

    Omar Gonzalez is the standout man in the back four for the Galaxy, while Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler are a deadly defending duo for Jeff Cassar's side. 

    Not only can these players alter the course of the game through a header on the offensive end, they are able to shift the pace with clearances in their own box. 

    With players like Morales and Donovan able to provide quality service at a moment's notice, defending set pieces could end up being as crucial as scoring off one. 

    Given how close the first leg was, expect one of these defenders to play a major role in some fashion in the second leg. 

Bruce Arena's Wing Selection Dilemma

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    The one position in the Galaxy lineup that is not locked down by a consistent starter is the right wing. 

    Baggio Husidic and Stefan Ishizaki have both played on the right side of the midfield this season, and both have seen a decent amount of success. But Husidic was ineffective in the first leg with 28 touches and 19 attempted passes. 

    His lack of production can be credited to Real Salt Lake left-back Chris Wingert, but it also can be linked to the rough patch of form he is in. Other than his goal and assist against Seattle on October 19, Husidic has not played a part in a Galaxy goal since September 5. 

    When Husidic does show up, he makes sure his presence is felt. He scored twice and assisted on a goal in the September 5 clash against Colorado.

    In his last start, Ishizaki was more active on the ball against Seattle with 53 touches and 34 attempted passes. The Swedish midfielder may not have played a role in creating a goal, but the numbers show he was able to do more against a top-notch defense than Husidic. 

    Ishizaki does seem like the better bet on the wing in a game where the Galaxy need to produce a constant attacking threat. But he could also be saved for the final 30 minutes if manager Bruce Arena opts to keep the same starting 11 together from the first leg. 

Alan Gordon's Presence off the Bench

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    If the second leg turns out to be a duplicate of the scoreless stalemate produced in the first leg, Alan Gordon has a chance to become a playoff hero. 

    Gordon was acquired in a shrewd move by Arena in August to provide the Galaxy with an impact forward off the bench. The 33-year-old has zero chance of starting in favor of Gyasi Zardes, Keane or Donovan up front, but he could end up playing a bigger role than all three of them combined. 

    Since returning to the Galaxy, the former San Jose player has scored five goals, four of which have come after Gordon was brought on as a substitute.

    Gordon also doesn't need 10 or 15 minutes to get acclimated to a game, as he scored in a six-minute shift against Toronto on October 4. He also was able to fire off two shots in an eight-minute span against Seattle on October 25. 

    What we're getting at here is Gordon will change the match if the two sides are deadlocked on aggregate late. We could even go as far as saying he will score the goal that puts the Galaxy in the Western Conference final. 

    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

    All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com and WhoScored.com

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