CARSON, Calif. – When the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake meet up in Sunday’s Western Conference Championship (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), the element of surprise will not be there.
Hardly strangers to one another, the Galaxy and RSL will look to pull one over on a familiar foe at the Home Depot Center and how well they execute will be the decider.
“It’s going to be a tough game but they know how we play, we know how they play,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said in the aftermath of his team's elimination of New York on Thursday. “Whoever makes the plays that make a difference on Sunday is likely the one who’s going to advance to the final.”
It may be difficult to predict who will come out ahead just by looking at their previous meetings of the season. Real Salt Lake tore the Galaxy apart in March at Rio Tinto Stadium, winning with a convincing 4-1 rout while the Galaxy beat RSL by 2-1 at the HDC in October.
Neither match, though, has much bearing on what will happen on Sunday.
“That was one of those games where we decided to forget, take an amnesia pill and that’s pretty much what you’ve got to do,” Galaxy forward Chad Barrett said of the 4-1 drubbing. “Everybody has one of those games where nobody shows up and that was one of them. It was bitter cold and we can throw out a bunch of excuses but on that day they kicked our butts.”
Donovan did not play for the Galaxy in that match, but was there in October. For that game, though, it was RSL who were missing their captain.
“The second game I thought we were good here but that game was without [Kyle] Beckerman,” Donovan said, “and he’s a big part of their team.”
Beckerman was suspended for the Oct. 1 clash but will be available for selection on Sunday. He’s high on the Galaxy’s priority list, as is his central midfield running mate, Javier Morales.
“We’re going to have to keep a guy on Morales and make sure he doesn’t get too many sniffs, and if he does get the ball make sure he doesn’t have much time on it,” Barrett said. “They have a great team besides him so we can’t just focus on that. The main thing we have to do is just get a game plan and force our game plan on to them.”
Part of the Galaxy’s game plan may be to attack down the center of RSL’s defense. After all, RSL did not have either Jámison Olave or Nat Borchers available for the Western Conference Semifinal second leg in Seattle on Wednesday. Instead, they went with a new-look central defensive pairing of Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert. The duo had their struggles, but still got the job done.
“I watched the game the other night and between Schuler and Wingert I thought they were actually terrific,” Donovan said. “Those two did a good job and if they play I’m sure they will be confident that they will get it done."
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org