LA Galaxy vs Real Salt Lake
Photo by Robert Mora / LA Galaxy

KEEP AN EYE ON: REAL SALT LAKE VS LA GALAXY (LEG 1)

Ahhhhhh, do you smell that? It’s the smell of playoff soccer.  And that smell just wouldn’t be the same without a Western Conference match-up between the LA Galaxy (17-7-10. 61 pts) and Real Salt Lake (15-8-11. 56 pts).  The two teams will meet for the second consecutive year in the playoffs and for the third time in the last four years.  Salt Lake have won two of those three matchups including the 2009 MLS Cup and last year’s dramatic overtime thriller thanks to a late Chris Schuler goal.

During the regular season the matchup has been dead even, with a draw and a win for both sides in their three meetings, and the Galaxy taking the last matchup 1-0 courtesy of an early Gyasi Zardes goal.  The LA Galaxy will be hoping that Zardes can find his goal-scoring form again as he hasn’t scored in over a month.

After a disappointing end to the season following a defeat to FC Dallas, a draw at home with Seattle, and the worst of them all, a 2-0 defeat on the last day of the season, which handed the Supporters Shield to the team in green.  No Omar, due to suspension, and a late Robbie Keane scratch because of an injury certainly didn’t help, but Saturday’s match will see both Designated Players back on the field.  Although the results have been disappointing, Landon Donovan thinks his side have plenty to be proud of from the last match in Seattle. “We just needed to find a goal and that let us down, but overall an excellent performance.  And obviously results matter and it’s hard to lose but I think we can be confident with how we played.”

Keys to the game:

Goalkeeping:

Saturday’s match at Rio Tinto will feature arguably the two best goalkeepers in the league.  Nick Rimando has been nothing short of god-like this season as he looks to earn a starting spot for the USMNT, and 3 straight shutouts to end the regular season is as good as it gets for heading into the playoffs.  But the opposing #18 isn’t too bad either—San Penedo has earned 8 shutouts this season, one more than Rimando, and has made 10 more saves with 81 on the year.  Rimando has certainly impressed, allowing only 1 goal on 5 penalty kicks so keep an eye on these two for some impressive shot stopping.

The Midfield Battle:

It’s no secret that both teams like to keep possession of the ball, and the matchup between the league’s best midfield pairing of Brazilians Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas against the plethora of RSL’s dynamic midfielders—Beckerman, Grabavoy, Morales Gil or Mulholland—will be an exciting one to watch.

Both Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez’s return to the starting lineup should have the LA Galaxy back and firing on all cylinders, and now that the year-long celebration of Landon Donovan has finished, the Galaxy will also get a 100% focused LD—and historically, Landon Donovan in the playoffs has been a pretty good thing.  He’s looking for his fifth MLS cup, and is the all-time leading goal scorer in the playoffs.  Not that LA will need any extra motivation, but if they could send Donovan out on top that would be the perfect storybook ending to the best American soccer career ever.  You can catch the start of the road to all that tomorrow night at 5 PM on NBCSN, with the return leg Saturday November 9th from the Stubhub Center in LA.