SANDY, Utah — There is no denying Landon Donovan is one of the greatest players in Major League Soccer history.
The all-time leading goal scorer in US national team history has put up some staggering numbers playing with his MLS club teams, with 117 goals and 96 assists in 266 regular-season games. So how is it, then, that this prolific scorer has had trouble putting his name on the score sheet when facing Real Salt Lake? According to coach Jason Kreis, it is no accident.
HIGHLIGHTS: CHV 0, RSL 3
"I think that if you go into any game facing a player like a Landon Donovan and aren't focused on him and aren't really familiar with what he likes to do, then you are going to be in trouble," Kreis told reporters on Tuesday. "We make it a very strong point for our players to be ready for players like Landon Donovan and David Beckham, both.
"I think that when we prepare our guys the right way, and when they feel like they are really ready for those encounters, then they typically do a pretty good job, no matter whether it is Landon Donovan or a really good player from another team."
RSL's defensive philosophy has always been that all 11 players are important in defending, but when they face off against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online), the primary job of matching up against Donovan falls on outside backs Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran.
"You have to really be on your toes," said Beltran. "He's got it all. He's got speed. He's got great touch, he's got vision, can finish, pass. He's a complete player. We are going to have to do a good job of knowing where he's at, at all times tomorrow and limiting him."
And while Beltran knows it is a tall task trying to control a player with Donovan's talent and ability, he also relishes the opportunity.
"No matter who you are playing against, you want to play at the highest level," he said. "But of course, when you are playing the best player on the US national team, there is a little extra incentive and a little extra mentality you have to have just being sharp and not letting him have anything. I enjoy playing against him. It's a challenge."
Amazingly, there are 18 points separating RSL (10-3-2, 32 points) and the Galaxy (4-8-2, 14 points). But even with that disparity, Real know they haave a challenge ahead and would like nothing more than to put even more distance between the two teams.
"I say that LA is still a very, very good team," said Kreis. "We need to be focused on the opponent we're playing and not the record we're playing against."