CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy outclassed Real Salt Lake in their Western Conference Semifinal opener on Sunday night, but they take the minimal advantage to Utah for Thursday's second leg (9 pm ET, ESPN2, TSN2 in Canada) and know they're in for a battle.
It's a fight they believe they'll win.
“We went [to Salt Lake City] twice this year with less than our full team,” Landon Donovan said following LA's 1-0 victory. “One game we won, 2-0, and one game was 1-1 until the 84th minute or so [as RSL scored two late goals for a 3-1 victory]. We're very confident. We go there with a full team, our team's very fit now, we're well-rested, we're healthy, and we like our chances.”
Real Salt Lake dominated that first game, but the Galaxy – without Donovan, Robbie Keane and Todd Dunivant – benefited from a phenomenal MLS debut by goalkeeper Brian Rowe. They were doomed by a too-characteristic late collapse in the second meeting, in which Keane, Dunivant and Omar Gonzalez were absent. LA convincingly won both meetings in Southern California.
The Galaxy appear to have solved their defensive inadequacies and have posted shutouts in four of their past five MLS matches, conceding only to Clint Dempsey in the 1-1 draw at Seattle to close the regular season. RSL barely got a sniff at LA's net until the final 15 minutes on Sunday.
“We talked about how we didn't want to give up any goals, and everyone was flying in front of balls,” said Sean Franklin, who scored the Galaxy goal barely two minutes into the second half. “Everyone did a good job [defensively]. And us shutting down their players, that's the kind of effort we're going to need going into the second leg.”
WATCH: LAvRSL postgame show
They know it won't be easy. Salt Lake have a deep, potent attack, and if Joao Plata returns from a hamstring strain, makes them all the more dynamic.
“You have to be wary and respectful of them, and playing at their place is always a tough place to go,” said Galaxy captain Keane. “Certainly, it's not over.
"If the players think it is, then they're going to be in for a big problem on Thursday night, so as long as we know that we start off nil-nil in the game, knowing we can counter and score with the players that we have in the team and defense play very, very well, we should be OK. But if we think that we're going to there and the game is done, then we'll be in for a shocker.”
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Nobody thinks it's over.
“We feel a little confident, but Salt Lake's a very good team, as we saw in the second half,” Gonzalez said. “When they want to, they can turn it around and put some pressure on you.
"We're not going in there overconfident. We're going in there to put our heads down and put in some good, hard work, because that's what it's going to take.”
LA hope to do more with their chances than they did in the first leg, but defense is the priority.
“We need to not give up a goal,” Donovan said. “If we don't give up a goal, we advance, so that needs to be the starting point. But as the game goes on, as it opens up, as they expose themselves, we're certainly going to have chances to score.”