Sandy • In searching for the words to describe one of the most tantalizing talents in Major League Soccer, Nick Rimando found his summary on striker Robbie Keane.
"He’s just very clever when players are tight on him and when he doesn’t have players so tight on him," the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper said. "He has the whole package, and he’s one of the best players in this league for a reason."
RSL at L.A. Galaxy
O Sunday, 7 p.m.
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And that’s precisely who RSL must figure out how to stifle.
But in the days ahead of their first Western Conference semifinal date with the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday evening, RSL knows what it faces in the one of the more explosive and dangerous teams in MLS.
The two-time defending champs no longer are with megastar David Beckham or Mike Magee, who scored 21 goals this season after being shipped to Chicago, but Keane and Landon Donovan are enough to worry about in a two-leg series.
"They have big players that will make big plays, especially in playoff time," RSL midfielder Luis Gil said. "I feel like we’ve got to be aware of that."
RSL probably is more than aware following the last meeting between these teams.
Keane notched a second-half hat trick in a 4-2 win over RSL on Aug. 17 at the StubHub Center, a match in which the Galaxy were able to slice away at a wide-open RSL defense.
RSL coach Jason Kreis, a former forward, said Keane is his MVP of the league in 2013. The Irish international finished fourth in the league in goals scored with 16 and third in assists with 11, and he helped shoulder the load for L.A. before Donovan returned from his soccer sabbatical in late March.
But those two stars have clicked. And Kreis sees it.
"I think the two work incredibly well together because it’s not always one high and the other one underneath," Kreis said. "They take turns on which forward’s going to be toeing the line and which forward is going to be dropping into the gap. Good combination of two incredibly smart forwards."
The Galaxy, considered one of the best counterattacking teams in the league, have the speed out wide and the players up top to blow the top off a match.
That was the case when Keane scored three goals in 30 minutes against RSL in August.
"We have to be smart and don’t let them play like that," RSL midfielder Javier Morales said.
A plus for RSL is the health of Chris Schuler. The 6-foot-4 centerback played well down the stretch, and Kreis said that presence could give the team a look it hasn’t had in a while.
"[Schuler] gives us a player that, physically, can put a little fear into forwards," Kreis said. "That’s something that we lack, and I’ve felt that we’ve lacked quite a bit since we lost [Jamison] Olave. ... We can’t just allow forwards to have days against us. I felt that too often this entire season we’ve allowed that."
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