Real Salt Lake eager to renew heat of old antagonism with LA Galaxy

SANDY, Utah – Ten years ago, Real Salt Lake defeated the LA Galaxy in the 2009 MLS Cup. The group that achieved that memorable upset will be honored – and Javier Morales will have his name added next to Jason Kreis’ above the player’s tunnel – on Wednesday night when the Galaxy visit RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium (9:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).

That 2009 group may remember the Galaxy a little differently than the current roster does. The rivalry with LA has faded in recent years with the rise of their antagonism with Sporting KC and the lack of playoff appearances against one another, but that doesn’t mean the fans have lost interest.

With David Beckham and Landon Donovan on one side and “The Team is the Star” on the other, the two teams battled regularly at the top of the Western Conference after the 2009 Cup win, highlighted by RSL's dramatic extra-time Western Conference semifinal win in 2013 and LA's painful 5-0 rout in revenge a year later.

While Nick RimandoKyle Beckerman  and LA's Juninho are the only players who remain from those days, the contrast of the big-city, Hollywood club facing plucky Salt Lake is still a draw for the fans. Which means it’s still a measuring stick, one way or another.

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“Last year [against LA, a 6-2 RSL win] was one of our better-atmosphere games,” Real head coach Freddy Juarez said this week. “It went in our favor. It was probably one of the best atmospheres I’ve experienced here in this stadium.”

While the current RSL team wouldn’t call Wednesday night a rivalry game, it has all the needed ingredients. Seeing the 2009 MLS Cup team will bring plenty of fans to fill the seats, if it wasn’t already going to be a sellout anyway.

“To have them here and remember those good times, those winning feelings, you’re making history,” RSL center back Nedum Onuoha said.

Onuoha would have his own entry in the rivalry, thanks to his run-in with Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in April. Whatever remains of that situation will probably be eclipsed by the stakes of Wednesday night: RSL and LA sit one point apart in the Western Conference standings, and three points for RSL would vault them ahead of the Galaxy in the race for postseason positioning and the chance at a home game in the first round of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Whether it’s considered a rivalry or not, it’s fair to say RSL and the Galaxy are steeped in history over the past decade. Both sides have had their success against the other and given what’s on the line this time around, finding that again on Wednesday is all that matters.

“All we’re trying to do is come close to replicating that,” Juarez said. “We hope it adds a little bit of emotion.”