Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake: MLS Cup 2009 Revisited

Jo-Ryan SalazarSenior Analyst INovember 4, 2011

The LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan (marked by Real Salt Lake's Yordany Alvarez) will need to step up his game on Sunday in the 2011 MLS Western Conference Finals.
The LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan (marked by Real Salt Lake's Yordany Alvarez) will need to step up his game on Sunday in the 2011 MLS Western Conference Finals.Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

And the beat goes on for Major League Soccer's best team this season.

Bruce Arena's Los Angeles Galaxy continue their 2011 MLS Cup Playoff run on Sunday, Nov. 6 when they take on Jason Kreis's Real Salt Lake at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

The last time both teams met on the pitch, it was in Seattle, and MLS Cup 2009 was taking place. Los Angeles lost on penalties 54 thanks to misses from Landon Donovan, Jovan Kirovski and Edson Buddle.

That was 2009. This year's team is much better than the side from two season ago, who scrapped out to a 12-6-12 record (48 points) just missing up on a Supporters' Shield by a single point to the Columbus Crew.

Most of the players on that 2009 side are on this year's team, with a notable exception being Robbie Keane. And speaking of Keane, the Galaxy will be keen to not let this year's Western Conference Final go down to penalties.

Midfielder Mike Magee, who scored in the 2009 MLS Cup Final for LA, knows the importance of this match.

“It’s big," Magee told reporters. "We’ve established ourselves as a very good home team and our fans as you could tell tonight were amazing, pushing us when guys were tired. It’s definitely a lot better playing here than in Salt Lake.”

"Of course, we want to beat them. As simple as that," midfielder David Beckham said. "They are a very good team, they have a very good manager, that is passionate about the game, and we know it’s going to be a difficult game. But, the advantage is, we’re at home and we’ll have out fans behind us. But we know we are going to be in a game.”

Beckham, defender Gregg Berhalter, Magee and Chris Klein converted their penalties in the shootout that ensued at CenturyLink Field (formerly Qwest Field).

Real Salt Lake, who defeated the Seattle Sounders on aggregate 3-2, actually come into this match with a lot of added pressure. A number of news sources have given the nod to Real Salt Lake to win the league, including Sports Illustrated, ESPN Soccernet, SB Nation, Soccer By Ives And WVHolligan.com.

RSL also own an unbeaten record as a lower-seeded team, going 6-0 in all competitions, from the MLS Cup Playoffs to the CONCACAF Champions League.

One of the players that could be the X-factor for Real Salt Lake is defender Robbie Russell, who was the hero in 2009 in the penalty shootout.

“He’s been absolutely spectacular in the last two matches,” Kreis told MLSsoccer.com's Randy Davis. “[He’s] probably the best defender of all of them in the two matches. He’s consistent in making plays, and making tackles when it counts. That’s what you need is guys with experience who step forward in those critical situations.”

Russell knows that his improved play as a defender could make all the difference.

“Playoff intensity,” Russell concluded. “It’s one of those things where I’m an older player, and I know I can’t necessarily game in and game out put out the effort. There are times where I really know I can do something special, and it is playoff time. That’s when it counts.”

Aside from a resolute defense, Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola form a 1-2 scoring attack for RSL. Saborio recorded 11 goals in the regular season, while Fabian Espindola scored 10. Captain Kyle Beckerman is available for this match, and with nine assists to lead the club, his play in the midfield will be critical to Real's chances.

Robbie Russell was the hero two years ago for Real Salt Lake against the LA Galaxy. Can he do it again?
Robbie Russell was the hero two years ago for Real Salt Lake against the LA Galaxy. Can he do it again?George Frey/Getty Images

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando has a 1.09 goals against average to go with 95 saves and 71 percent save percentage.

But while Real Salt Lake has held the advantage over Los Angeles in the postseason, it is LA that has won more trophies. Two MLS Cups, six Western Conference crowns, four Supporters' Shields, two U.S. Open Cups and a CONCACAF championship tell the story.

David Beckham put on a Willis Reed-esque performance against the New York Red Bulls en route to a 3-1 aggregate scoreline. Beckham, who recorded 15 assists this year, assisted on the Mike Magee equalizer in the 42nd minute and had to tough it out in the second half before being subbed late.

Landon Donovan led the team in goals with 12 and slammed the door shut on New York with a penalty in the 75th minmute of play.

The Galaxy have won a majority of their games as a result of a balanced defense, led by goalkeeper Josh Saunders and the backline of Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin. The objective for LA's defense is to avoid giving up a fast start to the opposition because they are prone to doing this.

Real Salt Lake need to be wise when delivering through balls, and that's where Kyle Beckerman can find either Saborio or Espindola to deliver. As for Los Angeles, they must win on their own laurels. Relying on luck in the form of own goals from Nat Borchers will not work.

Los Angeles were clearly rusty in their 2-1 victory on Thursday and need to do a better job of handling the ball and finishing their sequences. Too many goals from players like Beckham, Donovan and Robbie Keane were left on the table, and that cannot be tolerated on Sunday.

If the Galaxy are able to put it together, they will be back for the season finale on Nov. 20.

Well, there is no doubt that this will be an exciting Western Conference Final. I like the Galaxy finishing the job and seeing the season off by taking part in MLS Cup 2011.

Los Angeles Galaxy 2, Real Salt Lake 1
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET and will be televised by ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

It will be all hands on deck for David Beckham and Landon Donovan on Sunday.
It will be all hands on deck for David Beckham and Landon Donovan on Sunday.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

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