The 10-year history of MLS has shown that the road is not terribly welcoming. It's difficult to deal with long flights and different climactic conditions over a long summer, as well as terribly varying field dimensions. And at both Giants Stadium and Salt Lake's Rice-Eccles Stadium, the playing surface is something else road teams have to contend with.
Both grounds feature FieldTurf as their playing surface. The turf is designed to be more forgiving than the old AstroTurf or Tartan Turf, but still plays like a putting green. This weekend, the Los Angeles Galaxy are heading into Salt Lake to take on Real -- and the FieldTurf.
The Galaxy have shown a potent offense this year, that relies on their team speed to stretch defenses, and get players in behind the back line. The speed of the turf most likely will force the Galaxy to change their tactics offensively this weekend.
"It will just naturally (force a tactical change)," said Galaxy defender Chris Albright. "The turf kind of dictates how the game is played."
Teams that try and play through balls or balls into space oftentimes see the ball roll away from teammates and into touch. The turf forces a team to change its passing philosophy. Coach Steve Sampson is aware of this, and it's something his team has worked on this week.
"It's pivotal when you play on turf," said Sampson. "The game is and should be played more to feet."
When the game is played to feet rather than space it has a tendency to allow defenses to keep the game in front of them. In this week's matchup between Los Angeles and Salt Lake, the superior speed of the Galaxy could be negated by the unforgiving playing surface.
Real's ability to manage the odd bounces, and the quicker roll of the ball on their home field should serve them well, as they try to avenge an early-season loss at the hands of the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. Fortunately for Sampson and his boys, FieldTurf isn't completely foreign.
"Their familiarity on it is going to be an advantage to them," said the Galaxy boss. "Fortunately we have FieldTurf here to train on. Not every team in MLS has that."
What Sampson was referring to are the several training fields at the Home Depot Center that the Galaxy uses in practice, one of which is a full-size FieldTurf field. The Galaxy took full advantage of it too, training on it this week in preparation for Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Perhaps that will allow the Green and Gold to take a small piece of their home-field advantage with them this week to Salt Lake.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.