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MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy Vs. Real Salt Lake: Game Preview

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The Los Angeles Galaxy are set to take on Real Salt Lake tonight at the Home Depot Center, on a cold and wet day. The Galaxy will have to play a second game in four days for the second time in just over a month. With Robbie Keane still getting his sea legs, it's been Mike Magee that's put the ball in the back of the net for the Galaxy, scoring two goals in as many games over the aggregate series. 

"That goal was big," Arena said. "I thought he started the game slow. He got into it as the half went on and had a good second half as well. [He’s] obviously scoring some timely goals, some important goals."

Of course, even bigger has been the play of David Beckham. Going down with his back spasms acting up, and taken over to the sideline, it looked as if Beckham was a goner. Yet, he found a way to continued, and just a tick later delivered the corner kick that would put the Galaxy back up on aggregate. He bowed out of celebrating, but the man left it all on the pitch. 

 

"He's a player with an unbelievable desire to win and compete. When we got down a goal, David helped pick up the team. His energy in the second half and earning the penalty it was all David. David, I think, was an inspiration to our team."

 

Magee and Beckham will continue to be inspirations, and hopefully Robbie Keane and Juninho can step up with Landon Donovan to give the Galaxy one of the best attacks in all of MLS. They'll need them all to be at their best against Real Salt Lake's back line. Of course one of the big questions going into Sunday's match is the availability of Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers. Bruce Arena calmly said that whoever starts in the back for Real Salt Lake, they'll be tough.

"Obviously [Olave and Borchers] are a little bit more experienced than the combination Schuler and Wingert, but anyway Salt Lake lines up in the back they’ve got a good group. Obviously Olave and Borchers are amongst the best in the league, and honestly I do expect they to play. We’re planning on them playing, and if not I don’t see the level dropping all that much."

Chris Wingert certainly has MLS experience, but it's the cohesion between him and the younger Chris Schuler. If they do end up starting, it'll be interesting to see their communication with each other. Not understanding where your partner is going to be is what leads to unmarked men in the box. 

The other story of this year's playoffs is the condensed schedule due to the international weekend. The Galaxy had to battle fatigue and injuries, plus Juninho's suspension. Bruce Arena agreed scheduling around the international weekend was the right thing, but that it just presented new challenges.

"The challenges for the teams left in the competition are fatigue, injuries, suspension. It’s difficult. It’s a lot of games in a short amount of time and a lot of travel. I’m sure MLS, when they set the schedule up they understood the international calendar was going to affect the playoffs. World Cup qualifiers and Euro qualifiers took precedence over our domestic schedule"

Certainly the Galaxy have shown themselves one of the few teams in MLS to have the depth to deal with these sorts of challenges. Chris Birchall stepped up to play the holding midfield role with Juninho out. When Robbie Keane went down, Chad Barrett stepped up as a goalscorer. 

While Real Salt Lake has plenty to boast about these past three years, this will be the Galaxy's third straight year hosting the Western Conference Championship. This is the eleventh time the Galaxy have been in MLS's final four since the league began, the best mark for any of the top five American sports leagues over that span. They've advanced to the final a league record six times, but have been bridesmaids four times. Three of those loses were before 2002 and the introduction of ties to MLS and 2003 when the new playoff format was introduced. 

Of course, the fourth MLS Cup loss happened against Real Salt Lake in Seattle 2009, a date not lost those participating in today's match. Eliminating RSL would be a measure of revenge that this Galaxy core has wanted for a long time. 

The Galax have won their last two home matches against RSL, and are 6-3-1 against Real all time at the Home Depot Center. The only current LA Galaxy players to score against RSL at the Home Depot Center are Chad Barrett, Landon Donovan, and Bryan Jordan

Speaking of Landon Donovan, with his penalty kick on Thursday night, he extended his lead as MLS's all time post-season goal scorer. Donovan has 18 goals in 26 postseason appearances since coming to MLS in 2001. Ten of those goals were from his time with San Jose. Only Carlos Ruiz has more goals while in a Galaxy uniform, scoring 11 in 11 postseason games. 

Landon Donovan's not the only one setting records. With the win on Thursday, Bruce Arena tied Sigi Schmid for most post-season victories in an MLS career at 20. Since joining the Galaxy in 2008, Bruce is 6-1-2 in the postseason, while he was 14-3 with DC United, and the Red Bulls are terrible.