Stopping LA Galaxy — Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan are the chief targets, but others remain dangerous — is not a simple task. But that's exactly the task Real Salt Lake will be tasked with on Sunday when they launch their playoff campaign.
It's of real importance that the opposition midfielders be allowed minimal time on the ball. The more time Galaxy midfielders (and forwards dropping into deep positions) are given to find a killer pass, the greater the likelihood that we'll concede a goal. This doesn't necessitate the high pressure one might expect from other sides in MLS — instead, we can keep the same pressuring tactics we normally deploy, with our pressure increasing as the opponent nears our half. By approaching it in this way, we can avoid problems stemming from late overcommitment.
Following from that, we must also avoid getting hit in transition phases: We're facing a side that finds great joy in those moments. As a relevant example, three of their four goals they scored in a 4-2 win against us came with few of their players even in our half, let alone involved in the attack. It's a style that's afforded to them by the great individual skill of a few players and the willingness by others to remain in defensive positions during those moments. When your counterattack runs essentially three or four on six opposition players and ends in a goal scored, you're likely to find greater success.
Because of the threat offered by LA Galaxy on set pieces, RSL will need to be slightly more cautious when playing in the opposition half than they'd prefer to be. Creativity is a must, but an awareness of danger and willingness to sprint back to recover — from all players and not just those with more defensive roles — is necessary. As such, we must be willing to exercise patience in the opposition half, and in the final third we must take our chances quickly. Anything else presents too much risk for an unlikely reward.
Ahead of this weekend’s clash between Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, we look back at the storied history between RSL head coach Jason Kreis and LA head coach Bruce Arena.
Despite their large age-difference, Jason Kreis and Bruce Arena have crossed paths over the past 20 years, starting at the college level.
Kreis attended Duke University, starting in 1991, and regularly faced off against ACC foe the University of Virginia, which was then coached by Bruce Arena. The fierce college soccer rivalry often ended with Bruce Arena and the Cavaliers coming out on top.
Kreis on the Field
Kreis and Arena would meet again, this time in Major League Soccer with Kreis as a player for the Dallas Burn and Real Salt Lake and Arena as a coach for D.C. United and New York Red Bulls. Throughout this player-coach period, the two met 10 times with Kreis notching five goals and recording a 4-6-0 record against Arena-led sides.
Arena called Kreis up to the U.S. national team several teams during his tenure, with the RSL boss earning seven of his 14 career international caps under Arena in 1999 and 2000. Kreis started three of the seven games he appeared in for Arena, scoring his lone international goal and picking up a yellow card in 256 minutes of action under the LA coach/GM.
Jason Kreis became Real Salt Lake’s head coach on May 3, 2007 and in his first game at the helm, faced off against a Bruce Arena-led New York Red Bulls side, with the teams playing to a thrilling 3-3 draw at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Kreis won his first match as RSL boss against Arena on June 13, 2009 when Real Salt Lake defeated the LA Galaxy 2-0 at the Home Depot Center. The four previous meetings between Kreis and Arena had resulted in ties.
Kreis achieved the ultimate victory over Arena when RSL and LA faced off in MLS Cup 2009, with the Claret-and-Cobalt defeating the Galaxy 5-4 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw at Qwest Field in Seattle.
Arena got a measure of revenge in 2011, defeating Real Salt Lake in that year’s Western Conference Final, on his way to leading the Galaxy to the 2011 MLS Cup title. Arena went on to lead the Galaxy to another MLS Cup title in 2012.
All-time, Kreis is 6-6-4 when coaching against an Arena-led squad.
RSL v. LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy have met a total of 27 times across all competitions with the Claret-and-Cobalt posting a 10-11-6 record against LA. RSL is 10-10-5 against the Galaxy in MLS regular-season play.
Since Bruce Arena became head coach of the Galaxy on Aug. 18, 2008, Kreis and RSL are 6-6-3 against the LA side.
StubHub Center hasn’t exactly been a house of horrors for Real Salt Lake over the years.
Previously known as the Home Depot Center, RSL has performed very well at the Southern California home of the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, posting an 11-15-3 all-time record at the Carson, Calif. facility. RSL went 1-1-0 at StubHub Center this regular season, beating Chivas USA 4-1 on May 19 and losing to the Galaxy 4-2 on Aug. 16in Carson.
Prior to the Aug. 16 loss at the Galaxy, RSL had won an astonishing five-straight games at StubHub Center, beating Chivas USA three times and the Galaxy twice. By comparison, RSL has won five-straight MLS games at home on just three occasions in the club’s nine-year history.
One potential reason for RSL’s success at StubHub Center: The team’s numerous Southern California connections. RSL has eight players with ties to SoCal, with goalkeeper Nick Rimando (Montclair), defender Tony Beltran (Claremont), midfielder Luis Gil (Garden Grove), defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe (Chino Hills) and forward Benji Lopez (San Diego) all hailing from the area and midfielder Ned Grabavoy, forward Robbie Findley and goalkeeper Josh Saunders all spending time with the Galaxy earlier in their careers.
Let’s hope the whole roster feels comfortable at LA in Sunday’s Western Conference Semifinal first leg. Kick is at 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN.
The Western Conference’s final four was set on Wednesday night, with fourth-seed Seattle Sounders FC downing fifth-seed Colorado Rapids 2-0 at CenturyLink Field in the West’s Knockout Round to move to the Western Conference Semifinals against top-seed Portland Timbers.
The Seattle-Portland series will kick on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. MT at CenturyLink Field on NBC Sports Network. The winner of the Sounders-Timbers semifinal will take on the winner of the RSL-LA Western Conference Semifinal winner in the Western Conference Final series.
Real Salt Lake stacks up relatively well against the West’s remaining playoff teams this regular season, with the Claret-and-Cobalt registering a 4-3-2 combined league record – 5-3-2 in all competitions – against the Galaxy, Timbers and Sounders.
RSL was 1-2-0 against the Galaxy in the regular season. RSL and LA will play the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal at 7:00 p.m. MT at StubHub Center on Sunday night on ESPN. The sides will meet next Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7:00 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium for the series’ second leg – get your tickets today.
Let's see RSL make it happen again this year, starting with the Western Conference Semifinal against LA. The two-legged series will kickoff this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN at the StubHub Center. RSL's will host the second leg, with the date still to be determined.
Everyone should have their eyes glued to their TVs this weekend as the MLS regular-season comes to a close with clubs still vying for playoff spots and the Supporters’ Shield. This weekend’s results hold major implications as to whether or not RSL will win the Supporters’ Shield or the Western Conference and who the Claret-and-Cobalt will face in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Real Salt Lake will be bystanders this weekend as the Claret-and-Cobalt finished its regular-season with Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Chivas USA. Wednesday’s win clinched a top-two West seed for RSL, meaning the Claret-and-Cobalt will play away in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Nov. 2 or Nov. 3 before returning home to Rio Tinto Stadium for the West Semi second leg on Nov. 6 or Nov. 7. Real Salt Lake could still play any of the West playoff teams of Portland, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders FC or Colorado Rapids in the West Semifinals.
RSL currently sits in first-place in the Supporters’ Shield race and Western Conference with a total of 56 points, 16 wins and 57 goals scored.
With so much at stake this weekend, here is a list of all the key matches that affect RSL and who you should be rooting for:
Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
The Claret-and-Cobalt will need Sporting Kansas City to lose or draw at PPL Park in order for RSL’s Supporters’ Shield hopes to stay alive. Sporting Kansas City currently sits in second-place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 55 points, one point behind the New York Red Bulls. If Kansas City draws Philadelphia and ends up tied with RSL on points and wins, the Claret-and-Cobalt would place ahead based on the goals for tiebreaker, granted Kansas City doesn’t score 12 goals. The Philadelphia Union is facing a must-win situation in order to keep their postseason aspiration alive. This one’s easy: root for the Union.
Chivas USA vs. Portland Timbers – 8:30 p.m. MT on MLS Live
The Portland Timbers are the only team that can push RSL out of first-place in the Western Conference. A win for the Timbers at the StubHub Center would guarantee Caleb Porter’s squad first-place in the Western Conference and put an end to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s chance at the Supporters’ Shield. Portland currently has a total of 54 points, meaning a draw against Chivas USA would be enough to keep RSL first in the Western Conference. A Chivas USA win or draw might seem unlikely with their current record of 6-19-8, but everyone loves to root for the underdog. Let’s hope the Goats can end the season on a higher note and produce a result at home.
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire – 3:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. Real Salt Lake sits atop the league table narrowly leading New York by the goals for tiebreaker with 57 goals to New York’s 53. Any result by New York against Chicago will officially end the Claret-and-Cobalt’s run for the Supporters’ Shield. Chicago enters the match desperate for a win in order to keep its own playoff hopes alive. Pull for Mike Magee to keep his scoring form and work some magic at Red Bull Arena.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Colorado Rapids – 6:00 p.m. MT on MLS Live
This match won’t affect RSL’s standing in the Western Conference but it can affect who RSL will face in the Western Conference Semifinals. Colorado will need a draw or a win in order to officially clinch a playoff berth. If RSL finishes in first-place it will take on the winner of the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. If RSL finishes in second-place, it will face the third-place team in the West. If Colorado does earn a result at Vancouver, its playoff placement won’t be determined until after the final MLS regular-season game between Seattle and LA. Colorado would need a win and for LA and Seattle to draw in order to clinch third-place which would most likely mean a Rocky Mountain Cup semifinal series, assuming RSL finishes in second-place. A RSL vs. Colorado playoff game would be the first of its kind. Who to root for? Follow your heart.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. LA Galaxy – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
The final match of the MLS regular-season will definitely be an entertaining one with the former MLS champions taking on Western Conference rival Seattle Sounders FC. Seattle is suffering an epic blowout to end its regular-season, losing its last four matches by a combined margin of 12-2. Despite Seattle’s recent run of poor form, they have already clinched a playoff berth. This match will determine whether or not Seattle or LA will avoid the fourth-place vs. fifth-place knockout game. LA and Seattle will want to grab as many points as possible to put as much room between them and the red line. Who to root against? Both.
Every member of the RSL family will have their sights set on Portland this weekend, with the Claret-and-Cobalt set to take on the Timbers in a huge match at JELD-WEN Field at 8:30 p.m. on CW30 on Saturday night.
While Portland is the center of the Real Salt Lake – and, frankly, MLS – universe this weekend, there are plenty of other matches around the league that will affect RSL’s place in the standings. We’ve listed those matches below, along with some info on who you should be pulling for.
Sporting Kansas City v. D.C. United – 6:00 p.m. MT on NBC Sports Network
This might be a tad difficult in the wake of D.C.’s win over RSL in the Open Cup Final on Oct. 1, but Claret-and-Cobalt fans should be rooting for United to pull the upset at Sporting Park on Friday night. Kansas City and RSL have identical records, with the Claret-and-Cobalt leading SKC in the Supporters’ Shield standings by virtue of the goals scored tiebreaker. A little breathing room couldn’t hurt, however – pull for Ben Olsen’s squad.
FC Dallas v. Seattle Sounders FC – 12:30 p.m. MT on NBC
All those games in hand didn’t go exactly to plan for Seattle, which has lost its last three matches by a combined margin of 10-2. Despite the recent run of poor for, the Sounders are still just one point behind RSL in the standings, sitting in fourth-place in the Western Conference. Pull for Dallas – which announced on Friday that Head Coach Schellas Hyndman won’t return to his post in 2014 – in this nationally televised contest in Frisco.
Colorado Rapids v. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 4:00 p.m. MT on Altitude
Pretty simple calculus in this one. Do what you do so well, RSL fans: Root against the Rapids. A Colorado loss or tie would lock up a playoff spot for RSL. Pull for the ‘Caps to get a result on the road.
Houston Dynamo v. New York Red Bulls – 2:00 p.m. MT on UniMas
This one won’t impact the Western Conference race, but it does hold huge implications in the battle for the Supporters’ Shield. New York currently sits atop the league table with 53 points, ahead of Portland by virtue of the wins tiebreaker. If RSL is to have any hope of lifting the Supporters’ Shield this season, the Red Bulls will have to lose or tie one of their final two matches. Both are tough – New York finishes the season at home against what will be a desperate Chicago side – but Houston is a notoriously difficult place to play. Pull for the Dynamo to take all three at BBVA Compass Stadium.
LA Galaxy v. San Jose Earthquakes – 7:00 p.m. MT on ESPN
With San Jose effectively unable to pass the Claret-and-Cobalt in the West standings, pull for the Quakes to topple the Galaxy at the StubHub Center on Sunday. LA is inching up on RSL – just one point behind heading into the weekend – and it would be good for the Utah side if Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Co. dropped points to their California rival.
Make sure to tune-in to all of these matches this weekend. All five will be available to watch in Utah, with four on national TV and the fifth – Colorado v. Vancouver – on the Altitude network.
Best of all is that none of the above games conflict with the main event: RSL at Portland. 8:30 p.m. MT. CW30 and MLSsoccer.com as the Stream of the Week.
Real Salt Lake on Saturday faces perhaps their most bitter nemesis (rivalries not withstanding) in the form of LA Galaxy; one of the more potent sides in MLS, Real Salt Lake will have a difficult job maintaining approach and style without sacrificing defensive solidity.
Returning to the diamond
It's easy to imagine that facing off against LA Galaxy will require a more dynamic midfield than facing Houston required — which isn't a knock on the trio of Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales last week, nor on Houston particularly. But certainly we can agree that, when in form, LA Galaxy are a treacherous side to face, and containing them will require special attention. Stymying Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan is not particularly an easy task.
But it's equally important in attack: There was plenty of potency unfulfilled last week, and this isn't the sort of match to leave that on the table. Deploying with a more familiar formation for the squad could provide both attack and defense the best platform for success.
Defending the transition
It's a simple thing but difficult to execute: LA Galaxy will be quite good at picking up the ball in key areas and hitting us in our transitional states. We know this. With attacking players who can essentially turn the game on its head at any given moment — Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan the two obvious options — we have to be smart with the ball. We can't go losing it in the deeper parts of midfield on a silly pass, and we surely can't afford to lose the ball with a silly pass from a defender.
But surely we will give up the ball at times. Some of the world's greatest tactical managers, notably Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, among others, had a method for mitigating the risk of a lost ball: Immediately after the ball is lost, put intense pressure on the opposition for somewhere between three (Wenger) and six seconds (Pep) in an attempt to win the ball back immediately. Once that time period has passed, if the ball is not forthcoming, retreat to a more stable defensive outlay and defend the attack. That sort of approach wouldn't go amiss for Real Salt Lake.
Maintain control of possession
There are some sides against which losing the possession battle is fine, or at least doesn't present any great trouble. LA Galaxy are not one of those sides. That's not to say that they don't present trouble when they lose that particular battle: On April 27, RSL lost 2-0 but had a 63-37 possession advantage. So, yes, it's not everything. Or most things. But it's something we can control, and if we're smart without the ball as well as with it, we'll be in a good position.
In addition to the high-profile coaching matchup detailed here earlier on Thursday, Real Salt Lake’s game at the LA Galaxy on Saturday night will pit the two hottest players in MLS against each other in RSL’s Alvaro Saborio and LA’s Landon Donovan.
The two stars have absolutely torn up the league recently, with Saborio notching six goals and one assist in his last five MLS games and Donovan registering four goals and three helpers over the same span.
Saborio has decent numbers against LA, tallying one goal and two assists in six career regular season games against the Southern California side.
As he has against so many MLS teams, Donovan has run rampant in his career against RSL, scoring nine goals and adding eight assists in 17 career regular season matches against the Claret-and-Cobalt.
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis and goalkeeper Nick Rimando both spoke earlier this week about the prospect of stopping Donovan, who, in addition to his recent MLS exploits, was perhaps the best player in July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“He’s just somebody you’ve got to be aware of at all times, depending on where he’s playing in their tactical setup” Kreis told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s been playing more as a second forward than as a wide midfielder. That makes him, I think, a little bit easier for us to pick up actually and know where he is at all times because he’ll tend to stay more in central positions.”
“He’s always been Landon, you know?” Rimando told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. “I think that time away really gave him back his legs and his mentality, and he really found his passion back for soccer. He was in a zone [during Gold Cup] and it’s continued. It was good to see it on the American side, but bad to see it when we have to face him.”