SALT LAKE CITY – The LA Galaxy expect to get the best Real Salt Lake have to offer in Thursday night's decisive leg in their Western Conference Semifinal series (9 pm ET, ESPN2, TSN2 in Canada), and they believe that will afford them the chances they need to nail down a fifth straight trip to the Western Conference Championship.
RSL must overcome a 1-0 deficit in the second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium, so LA figure they'll have to absorb some heavy pressure in the opening minutes. And if they do so, the Galaxy will find the space they require to add to their advantage.
“You would think the game is going to look pretty open at times, because of them throwing numbers forward,” Landon Donovan told reporters on the eve of the clash. “They always do that at home anyway, and with the added pressure of having to win, that's the expectation. I'm sure they're not going to go crazy, because the reality is they just need a goal at some point.
“For us, the mentality is to just be aggressive, to get around the ball, get after the ball, but also when we have chances to possess the ball and go forward, do it properly. And we're going there to win the game. We're not going there to get a tie.”
The Galaxy figure RSL will come out in their standard diamond-midfield 4-4-2 after using a defensive-minded 4-2-3-1 for much of the first leg and creating virtually nothing out of it. LA defended well on Sunday, but they're going to get a much stiffer test this time.
“They're going to have a very aggressive mentality,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “They obviously need to win the game and score. I think in their minds, they were hoping to get out of [the first leg] with a result or, at worst, being down a goal, and that's how it ended up.
“So I think they're fairly happy with where they're at. They're coming back to their home field, a difficult place to play, so I think they're feeling good about their chances.”
LA feels pretty good about theirs, too. The defense has been solid the past month, even longer, and they believe they'll always create chances.
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“More often than not, playoff games are 1-0 games, 2-1 games, 1-1 games, like that, so even though we created a lot of chances [in the first leg], you know it's going to be difficult to score goals,” Donovan said. “[The second leg is] going to look the same. [It's] going to be a 1-0 game, a 0-0 game, maybe a 2-1 game, and we've got to come out on the better side of that.
“I think the expectation is if we put on the same kind of performance and if we're a little sharper in front of the goal, then we can win the game.”
RSL's aggressiveness could play into the Galaxy's strategy. LA want to run their counterattack, and they know they'll find the space to do so.
“They have to [push forward], they need at least a goal,” Donovan said. “They showed at the end of last game they're willing to take some chances and go for it, which is why we have so much respect for them. They're not a team that sits in and defends. They go for it.
"We have to be very good defensively, we know that, but we're not going there to defend for 90 minutes. We're going there to play and to try to keep the ball and try to move the ball and put them under pressure, too.”
The first goal, if there is one, “will be huge,” Dunivant noted.
“Whoever scores the first goal, it changes the direction of the game,” he said. “And we'd love for that to be us, but we know if we give our guys enough chances – even half the chances we got in the last game – we'll be happy with that, and we're going to score. There's no doubt about that.”