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Tactics, desire will decide Real Salt Lake, Galaxy clash in Western Conference Championship

Published November 5, 2011 8:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Real Salt Lake's plan for victory against a team that hasn't lost this season at the Home Depot Center is simple. To execute it properly — that is another matter.

"Our back line has to know, has to be especially aware of where their attacking players are at all times, even when we have the ball," RSL defender Robbie Russell said. "A split-second turnover and [midfielder David] Beckham looks up once and hits a 70-yard ball."

Bruised, unsure of itself and possibly short two starters on the defensive end, RSL is one game away from playing for the championship of Major League Soccer.

Certainly, RSL faces a tall order when it plays the Los Angeles Galaxy at 7 p.m. (MT) Sunday on ESPN for the Western Conference Championship and the right to play for the MLS Cup.

At age 36, Beckham's skills may have eroded somewhat, but he remains a dangerous distributor of the ball, which, in turn, opens the field for runs by Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Chad Barrett.

All of which led RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman to remark, "Our best defense is not to let [Beckham] touch the ball."

So, can an RSL (16-12-8) team that advanced by barely surviving a 26-shot barrage by the Seattle Sounders FC in the Western Conference semifinals run its passing game? Will the defensive core of the Galaxy (21-5-5) allow it?

"They're just a very well-organized team that is difficult to break down," RSL coach Jason Kreis said.

Typically, the Galaxy doesn't mind absorbing pressure. They've allowed only 28 goals in MLS this season.

It will be important for RSL midfielder Javier Morales to stretch the L.A. defense with his pinpoint passing to forwards Fabián Espíndola and Álvaro Saborío.

With RSL's defensive foundation in question — center backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are questionable with nagging quad strains — the danger of L.A.'s swift and lethal counterattack increases.

"For us, our main concern is to get our passing game going," Beckerman said.

There are a couple of subplots entering Sunday's clash.

First, the Galaxy have not won an MLS Cup since 2005, an unacceptable drought for such a high-profile team.

Ever since the Home Depot Center was chosen to be the site of the 2011 MLS Cup, Los Angeles spent a bundle to ensure the Galaxy would play for the title on their home field. Enter Irish international forward Robbie Keane.

Also, Beckham is in the final year of his contract and has lucrative offers from European teams. Beckham's desire for a championship is strong.

He played one of his finest games of the season during Thursday's Western Conference semifinal victory against the New York Red Bulls.

Despite being rocked by a first-half tackle and taking a blow to the head — L.A. coach Bruce Arena denied that Beckham had a concussion — Beckham was all over the field.

"His work rate was unreal," Beckerman said.

So, tactics aside, the game may simply come down to desire — as well as which RSL team will show up, the one that dominated Seattle 3-0 or the side that was nearly overrun by the same team.

The two teams split their games with each other this season, each winning on the other's home turf. Also, each team was without a star player in defeat.

"Everything is meaningless now," Kreis said. "The only thing that matters is what happens Sunday night."

martyr@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Rsltribune —

Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

P At Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

Kickoff • 7 p.m., MDT

TV • ESPN

Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM

Records • RSL 16-12-8, LAG 21-5-10

Series record • 7-7-6

Last meeting • LAG 2-1 (Oct. 1)

About RSL • The availability of injured defenders Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave, both nursing quadriceps strains, remains a game-time decision. … RSL is 6-0 all-time in all playoff series when it is the lower seed. … When Álvaro Saborío scores first, RSL is 20-2-5 all-time.

About the Galaxy • Is midfielder David Beckham 100 percent following Thursday's physical conference semifinal with New York? He didn't practice Friday. … L.A. is undefeated at Home Depot Center in 2011, 11-0-4. … The Galaxy has outscored opponents this season 48-28.