Real Salt Lake: RSL, Galaxy to renew their rivalry of contrasts
Sandy • Real Salt Lake and the L.A. Galaxy.
Small market vs. big market.
Grit vs. glitz.
Team Is the Star vs. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and all the SoCal glamour that goes with them.
It's a matchup that could have been concocted in Hollywood, a rivalry forged between teams that have become among the best in Major League Soccer by taking different paths to success. And those styles will clash head-on once again on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Home Depot Center.
All that's at stake is the right to play for the MLS Cup.
"They spend four or five times as much as we do on salaries. They probably have a budget that's four or five times as much as ours when it comes to finding players and scouting and travel and on and on and on," said RSL coach Jason Kreis, who called the game a battle of philosophies.
To get to Sunday's Western Conference Final, Los Angeles defeated the New York Red Bulls the only MLS team to spend more on salaries than the Galaxy by a 3-1, two-game aggregate score.
Real outlasted the Seattle Sounders by a 3-2 aggregate total.
Certainly, small-market RSL has had little trouble forging a rivalry with the Galaxy and their cast of multimillion dollar stars, led by Beckham, the international soccer icon. The game's been on for both teams since RSL defeated Los Angeles in 2009 for the MLS Cup.
"It is one of those ways that people look to sum up the situation," RSL defender Robbie Russell said of the teams' apparent differences. "Of course, it is more complicated than that and of course there are other factors. [But] it's one of those summations that kind of hints at the truth a little bit.
"We have had good matches with them in the past. We've had success, and they are a very successful team. So it's one of those things people are interested in how it will play out," Russell added.
Despite the spending and glitz gap, RSL holds a 5-3-3 advantage over Los Angeles going back to 2007, including that thrilling 2009 championship game in Seattle that was decided on penalty kicks. This season, the teams split the series, with RSL winning 4-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium and the Galaxy with help from an own goal defeated RSL 2-1 in the Home Depot Center rematch.
"We don't need to alert our players [about RSL]," said L.A. coach Bruce Arena during a Friday conference call. "Everyone is aware."
Since 2007, RSL holds a 20-16 goal advantage over L.A. The two teams split series in 2007, 2010 and 2011. In 2008, both games finished in a tie. During the 2009 regular season, there was one tie and an RSL victory.
As for each team's success, Los Angeles will play for its third Western Conference title, while RSL has competed in a conference final three times in four seasons.
It's hard to overlook the comparative price tags.
When RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey mentioned that one-third of the team's salary was out with injuries or suspensions for a third of this season, he was asked to compare that with Beckham's salary.
"Enough to fit into one of his shoes," Lagerwey said.
Knowing that the MLS Cup would be played on its home field this season the championship game is set for Nov. 20 at the Carson, Calif., pitch Los Angeles went out and spent even more money, signing Irish international Robbie Keane, whose base salary is nearly $3 million annually.
Keane is one of the Galaxy's three designated players, including Beckham ($5.5 million) and Landon Donovan ($2.3 million).
Los Angeles traded its former third designated player, Juan Pablo Angel, to Chivas USA but is responsible for part of his salary.
By comparison, RSL's highest-paid player is Javier Morales at just more than $400,000.
"They have a lot of money on their team and stars," RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "We're small market and they're big market, so I think it will be a great matchup."
And, Rimando added, "In the back of their minds, there will be that 2009 championship game."
RSL vs. Galaxy
• Galaxy 3, RSL 2
• RSL 2, Galaxy 1
• RSL 2, Galaxy 2
• RSL 2, Galaxy 2
• RSL 2, Galaxy 2
• RSL 2, Galaxy 0
• RSL 1, Galaxy 1 (MLS Cup, won by RSL 5-4 in penalty kicks)
• Galaxy 2, RSL 1
• RSL 1, Galaxy 0
• RSL 4, Galaxy 1
•Galaxy 2, RSL 1
RSL at L.A. Galaxy
P Western Conference finals
Sunday, 7 p.m. TV • ESPN