Real Salt Lake staying on defense with not-so-familiar foe LA Galaxy looming in opener

The LA Galaxy will begin the 2014 MLS season the way they ended the 2013 – facing off against Real Salt Lake.

Four months ago, LA took a 1-0 win at home in the first leg of the series, but RSL rebounded with a 2-0 win in Utah to win the series. The Claret-and-Cobalt are looking to match that kind of defensive outcome when the two teams meet Saturday night at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. (10:30 pm ET; MLSsoccer.com FREE Stream of the Week).

“We learned some lessons for sure in that series,” Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers told reporters of the first leg loss. “We got opened up quite a bit. We were left 1-v-1 in the back quite a bit.”

In that match, the Galaxy squandered chance after chance to extend their lead. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando saved two point-blank shots by LA forward Robbie Keane alone.

“I think this time around we're going to have be smarter about giving them chances and giving them counter-attacking opportunities,” Borchers said. “We're going to have to keep numbers back.”

New head coach Jeff Cassar backed that up, telling reporters he wants his team to “keep them honest” to be “aware of the dangerous ball.” And he wants his team to give back what it has been getting from opponents.

“What we've been really talking to them a lot [about is] if it's in their half and it's time to foul – foul,” Cassar said. “Stop the play. Get behind the ball. Because you see a lot of teams are doing that to us. We have to do that to them sometimes, too.”

The RSL team that takes the field on Saturday will largely be the same one that came within a kick of winning the 2013 MLS Cup. The Galaxy return Keane and Landon Donovan, among others, but made numerous offseason changes to their lineup.

And that's why Rimando is not so sure that what happened in the playoff series in November is any indicator of what's going to happen on Saturday.

“That's too far [back]”, he told reporters. “Different team, maybe.”

While he's certainly familiar with Keane and Donovan, Rimando has never faced Brazilian striker Samuel, who joined the Galaxy in the offseason.

How do you deal with an unknown quantity like that?

“Just focus on the game and what I can do,” Rimando said. “And what my defense can do. And make sure we're organized. There's always curveballs thrown at you, but if you're organized and you're defense is up to the task, I think we'll be OK.”

One major difference for the Claret-and-Cobalt is that defender Chris Schuler won't be available; he's still working his way back from offseason foot surgery. And Schuler not only made a major stand defensively against the Galaxy in the playoff series, but he scored the series-winning goal in the 102nd minute of the second leg.

Still, Rimando figures, “We're going to see where we're at really quick. It's a good test for us. LA's always a great team, and it's going to be a battle.”