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Real Salt Lake: How does RSL counter L.A.'s potent counter?

Published March 20, 2014 10:17 pm

Salt Lake is hoping to stifle Keane, Donovan by playing keep-away.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • Counter the counter. Or, discover the most appropriate way to counter the counter and go from there.

It's the recycled reality Real Salt Lake faces when taking on its Western Conference rival, the L.A. Galaxy, a club that aims to get out and turn every opposition on its back by running straight at them given any opportunity. Saturday's home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium will be no different when RSL and the Galaxy again test one another's strengths.

But RSL is familiar with the flow L.A. hopes to impose on any opponent. Dating back to last year's Western Conference semifinal series and including Saturday's match, RSL will have gone up against the Galaxy in four of its last eight matches. It knows Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan and midfielders Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, the two who often are leaned upon to spring the counter-attack. So how RSL turn its familiarity with a style to its advantage?

"We need to try and limit them from good, clear chances and when we're going the other way, look to maintain possession and try to break them down through our passing," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "If the counter-attack is there and it presents itself, then we can go at them that way as well."

Despite being under heavy fire in the 2014 season opener at the StubHub Center on March 8, RSL used its speed to counter the Galaxy's counter with forward Joao Plata and moving the ball smoothly through the midfield in its 1-0 win.

"I think it's just about making the right choices," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. "When it's time to possess the ball in the attacking third, make smart and safe decisions doing that, and when it's time when [the Galaxy] are maybe a little bit out of shape, to punish them."

While the breakdown of the series between the two rivals is neck-and-neck — RSL is 12-12-6 all time against L.A. — the last three games could be construed as sort of a turning point in the rivalry as RSL has held the Galaxy to just one goal in the last three meetings. But RSL midfielder Javier Morales said his club hasn't figured out any magical way of defending the viable attack of Keane, Donovan and Co.

"I think every game is different," said Morales, who has five goals and eight assists in 15 career regular-season matches agains L.A. "I think we did a pretty good job in the last couple of games, but I think we can improve a little bit on Saturday and make a better game."

And RSL's star said counter-attacking or not, the space created when the two sides square off each time is a style of soccer he enjoys partaking in.

"I like to play in those kinds of games that are wide open," Morales said. "They can finish 4-3, 3-2 with a lot of goals — it's fun to watch and it's fun to play, too. I like to play games when [L.A.] comes here and tries to take three points because that means they really want to play."


L.A. Galaxy at RSL

O Saturday, 2 p.m.