RSL's gameplan vs. LA Galaxy? Keep the ball, limit counters – and rely on Nick Rimando
SANDY, Utah — Two weeks ago, Real Salt Lake kept the LA Galaxy off the scoreboard. It was their second shutout in a row over the Galaxy, if you look back to their 2013 playoff series.
In the 2014 season opener and the two legs of that playoff series, LA scored only one goal.
So in the midst of that defensive run, how are RSL feeling ahead of Saturday’s home opener (4 pm ET; NBCSN) against – yes – that same LA Galaxy team? Triumphant? Elated? Like they’ve got LA’s number?
How about “relieved.”
“Anytime you can get a shutout against a team like that, it's great,” RSL defender Chris Wingert told MLSsoccer.com. “But — they had some chances that normally they'd finish and [goalkeeper Nick Rimando] played out of his mind.
“Nick is a part of our defense, fortunately.”
Veteran defender Nat Borchers agreed. “We might have gotten fortunate on a couple of bounces there,” he told reporters.
There's no doubt that the deciding factor on March 8 was Rimando. He made a series of spectacular saves and preserved the win for RSL when he stopped Robbie Keane's penalty kick in the 93rd minute, and was named MLS Player of the Week for his heroics.
“I know we've been lucky to have him since I've been here,” Wingert said. “Because, for me, he's the best in the league.”
But even when Rimando wasn't making great saves, LA couldn't get the ball in the net. In each of their last three meetings with RSL, the Galaxy have had trouble finishing. Two weeks ago, Samuel put the ball in Rimando's hands from 10 yards out, Keane hit the post, Landon Donovan couldn't finish with nothing but Rimando between him and the goal — twice. And that was just in the first half.
“I thought we did OK,” Borchers said. “We still gave up some chances. We still weren't as sharp as I think we can be.”
And he thinks the 2014 Galaxy squad may be more dangerous than the 2013 version, which took two out of three regular-season matches from Salt Lake, outscoring them 7-5.
“They're always going to be dangerous with guys like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane,” Borchers said. “And they've added Rob Friend and Samuel, who are both big, strong guys, and I think they added a different kind of dynamic to their act. I think it could be more difficult to defend against.”
RSL head coach Jeff Cassar didn't put the blame for the defensive lapses in the March 8 match altogether on the defense.
“I thought they did a fantastic job considering the counter-attacks [the Galaxy] had,” he told reporters. “When LA gets chances like that, it's not just on the defense. It's on the whole team and what the team's shape is like.”
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Wingert said there are “things we can improve on,” particularly against a team whose “movement off the ball is just excellent. Probably the best in the league.”
First, RSL needs better “communication on the backline.” And, second, it needs better play out of the entire team.
“A big part of defending for us is keeping the ball,” Wingert said. “We're a possession-oriented team. If we can really get the ball and keep it for long stretches it keeps them away from our goal. And that's the best defense we have.
“To go 90 minutes and not give up any chances is not realistic, but we want to limit them. And we don't want to be putting Nick under as much pressure as we did last time.”