CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy count nearly everybody as a rival, thanks to that two-consecutive-MLS-Cups target that sits squarely on their backs, but they consider their tête-à-tête with Real Salt Lake to be the real thing.
There might be more animosity in LA's rivalries with Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes, and the Seattle Sounders are in there somewhere, but they've counted RSL as a prime foe since blowing a lead against them and falling on penalty kicks in the 2009 MLS Cup final.
“It's kind of like a stinger still in our heads,” defender Sean Franklin noted this week during preparations for Saturday's Western Conference encounter in Sandy, Utah (9 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week on MLSsoccer.com). “We've had tough games [with them]. Every year it's tough.”
Said midfielder Mike Magee: “When this group first kind of got together [as Bruce Arena rebuilt the Galaxy in 2009], we lost to them in the final, and, obviously, that left a bad taste in our mouth. Every game we've played with them since definitely gets heated. It's not the same as Chivas, but it's right there. Probably in our top three.”
It's a rivalry built on respect, and the Galaxy clearly respect RSL, the way they play the game, and the way they battle. LA have won only four of 15 meetings, including the 2011 Western Conference Championship, since mid-2007, and their only victory at Rio Tinto Stadium was last June's 3-2 comeback victory, one of the chief signposts of their second-half turnaround last season.
“We've had some really good games with them over the years, and I guess you create rivalries by playing important games that mean something, and we've had a lot of that over the last few years,” said Landon Donovan, who is uncertain for the game after missing training all week with a leg strain.
“All that says to me is that we're two teams that are consistently very good, and that comes down to the stability of the organizations, the stability of the coaches, and then having good players, good leaders on the field.”
The Galaxy (3-1-2) could be missing several of those leaders. Robbie Keane, who is slowed by a sprained left ankle, did not train Friday after departing Thursday's session early, and left back Todd Dunivant also hasn't trained fully this week. RSL (3-3-2), meanwhile, are the healthiest they've been all season.
“This is definitely a bigger test [than last week's victory over Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City],” Magee said. “We've gotten to a point right now where we should win every game at home, no matter who we're playing, but to go to Salt Lake, it's an extremely hard place to get a result.”
It's all preparation for bigger games ahead.
“This is my fifth year here, and every time you kind of get the feeling that if you want to win a Cup or a [Supporters'] Shield or anything that you want to win, you're going to have to play Salt Lake,” Magee said. “So it's obviously good to try to get in their heads early, win one early. You know there's a decent chance if you want to win a Cup, you're gong to have to play a game in Salt Lake. That's the feeling.”