November 22, 2009 was a day that Los Angeles Galaxy fans would soon want to forget. Real Salt Lake, in only their fifth season of existence, won the MLS Cup 5-4 on penalties at the expense of blunders from the spot by Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle.
Fast forward to April 17, 2010. With RSL earning the big X on the back, the Galaxy's thirst for revenge had never been so pronounced. And with Buddle leading in goals tallied in Major League Soccer with five, common sense would dictate that it would take a pocketful of kryptonite to prevent any hope for payback in the rematch at the Home Depot Center.
"It's never easy," Buddle said at practice on his goals scored thus far. "My position always makes it tough to get free and it's physical, especially last week against Houston. They are physical and we expect that this week."
“We’ve just been going out there and having a good time, just trying to stay connected and try to play defense first and worry about the offense second,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said on his role in the field.
Los Angeles (3-0-0, 9 points) boasts one of the stingiest defenses in the league in goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, Gonzales, and fellow central defender Leonardo and the outside back tandem of Todd Dunivan, Sean Franklin, and A.J. De Le Garza.
“Everyone’s been working for the same goal," Gonzalez said. "[Midfielder] Landon [Donovan] always comes up to me before games and says, ‘Let’s get this win. Let’s get this shutout. Let’s just keep it going.’
"I relay that message to the other guys, so we’ve all been on the same page.”
Donovan is currently tied with Franklin and New England's Kheli Dube on the assists table this year with two.
Currently Real Salt Lake sits second on the Western Conference table (1-1-1). They will not have the services of Yura Movsisyan, who is helping Danish first division side Randers FC avoid the drop, nor will they have the services of Clint Mathis, who now dons the Galaxy blue, gold, and white.
However, they still have the bulk of their team returning. Among the notables, Robbie Findley led RSL in 2009 with 15 goals and will look to continue his form from last year against LA. Midfielders Javier Morales and Andy Williams also trouble, leading Real Salt Lake with five assists apiece last year.
Dangerous Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio will be one of the new players to watch out for donning the red, blue and gold for RSL.
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando will have to brace himself for an improved, hungry Galaxy side that has managed three straight shutouts without the assistance of injured striker David Beckham.
A great deal of the credit behind the shutouts must go to a midfield that has dispossessed its opponents in their third. Dema Kovalenko, Juninho, and Chris Birchall have caused their share of headaches by becoming flexible in Bruce Arena's 4-4-2. No time and no space equals little opportunity to score. The Galaxy will look to maintain their momentum.
"Losing in the finals, you want to play that team again," Buddle said on the contest on Saturday. "They don't have any revenge. They got what they wanted. We want to show that we're the better team."
Prediction: I like the Galaxy's form in this one. RSL is a team whose pace matches LA nicely. This will be the weekend where Ricketts may give up one. Nonetheless, Los Angeles will prevail in this contest, perhaps with someone other than Edson Buddle on the scoring sheet. Landon?
Los Angeles 2, Real Salt Lake 1.