Playoff Preview and Prediction: Real Salt Lake vs LA Galaxy

Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy will meet in a Western Conference heavyweight clash at the Rio Tinto Stadium in their playoff semi-final first leg on Saturday night.

Both sides share a vast experience of competing in the MLS Cup, so they’re certainly no strangers to the responsibility and pressure that comes with playoff matches.

Real Salt Lake were runners-up in the final last year following a penalty shootout defeat to Sporting Kansas City after they had tied the game 1-1 and have qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs every season since 2008.

They won the competition in 2009 when they beat LA Galaxy on penalties – their only MLS Cup title to date.

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Real Salt Lake will look to their home advantage to try and get themselves ahead in this tie as their form at the Rio Tinto Stadium has been excellent this year, with 11 wins and just the one defeat.

Real Salt Lake’s home form: Played 17 – Won 11 – Drawn 5 – Lost 1

LA Galaxy are the joint most successful team in the history of the MLS Cup alongside DC United with both sides having won four titles.

However, the Galaxy were dumped out of the competition at this stage last year by the same opponents, losing 2-1 on aggregate, so they will be looking to avoid a repeat performance.

They will also have to recover from their Supporters’ Shield disappointment after their 2-0 defeat against Seattle Sounders in the last game of the season saw them finish in second place, while the Sounders lifted the title.

They’ve struggled for consistency away from home and their last win on the road was a 3-0 win at Chivas USA on September 1, so the key will be to keep it tight on Saturday night.

LA Galaxy’s away form: Played 17 – Won 5 – Drawn 6 – Lost 6

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It’s crucial to still be alive in the tie when the second leg comes around, so neither side will want to hand the initiative to the opposition, so this should make for a tense but entertaining affair.

Key Player: Alvaro Saborio – Real Salt Lake’s Costa-Rican forward has been in fine form this season, having scored 8 goals from just 13 starts. He boasts the best goals-per-game ratio for the home side and if he plays a part, he could make the difference.

Key Stat: LA Galaxy have faced Real Salt Lake twice before in the MLS Cup and have been on the losing end both times:

  • 2013 – Western Conference semi-final – Real Salt Lake 2-1 LA Galaxy (aggregate score)
  • 2009 – MLS Cup Final – Real Salt Lake 1-1 LA Galaxy (Real Salt Lake won 5-4 on penalties)

Real Salt Lake’s last five: L/L/W/D/W

LA Galaxy’s last five: W/W/L/D/L

Prediction: Real Salt Lake 1 – 1 LA Galaxy

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Player ratings: Seattle Sounders 2-0 LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders clinched their first ever Supporters’ Shield with a gutsy 2-0 victory over Western Conference rivals LA Galaxy at CenturyLink Field.

They battled through a fiery opening 30 minutes, with possession largely dominated by the Galaxy.

Pure grit, determination and passion got them through those early stages and their tactics were spot on as a frustrated LA couldn’t find a way through.

When chances came their way late on, they made the most of it and in the end they probably deserved the victory.

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[Seattle Sounders had already tasted glory this season when they won the 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup]

Seattle Sounders:

  • Stefan Frei (Goalkeeper) – 7/10 – Despite LA’s early dominance of possession, they didn’t create much which left Frei with little to do. The one occasion he was called upon came when Landon Donovan tried to latch on to a through ball but Frei did well to close the angle down and leave Donovan with no time to think.
  • DeAndre Yedlin (Defender) – 7/10 – He was reliable and solid for the most part but did look susceptible at times on the outside flank. His work-rate was excellent.
  • Chad Marshall (Defender) – 8/10 – He was influential at the back and was the glue that kept the Sounders unit tied together. He won everything in the air and was tidy on the ground with great passing accuracy. (80% according to whoscored.com)
  • Zach Scott (Defender) – 7/10 – A faultless performance at the heart of defence. His partnership with Marshall played a crucial role in keeping a clean sheet.
  • Leonardo Gonzalez (Defender) – 7/10 – The Sounders full-backs had to be alert and aware of the threat LA posed from out wide as they looked to expose the flanks but Gonzalez was more than wise to those kind of tactics.
  • Brad Evans (Midfielder) – 6/10 – You can’t be too critical of the Sounders defence as they stuck to their task so well but his poor passing accuracy of 56% (according to whoscored.com) makes it hard to award higher than a 6.
  • Osvaldo Alonso (Midfielder) – 8/10 – He was instrumental in the execution of the game plan. He was consistently good with his passing throughout and wasn’t wasteful in possession in the same way that some of the Sounders players were.
  • Gonzalo Pineda (Midfielder) – 7/10 – He played with aggression, fight and determination. He was perhaps guilty of letting it spiral out of control at times but he was a terrier in the middle of the park and consistently hounded the Galaxy midfield when they were in possession.
  • Lamar Neagle (Midfielder) – 6/10 – He stuck to his defensive duties well but struggled to find teammates with his passing, particularly in the first half.
  • Clint Dempsey (Forward) – 7/10 – He wouldn’t let the LA defence relax and he was a nuisance to deal with in the second half.
  • Obafemi Martins (Forward) – 8/10 – He’s hunting down the MVP award and he certainly didn’t harm his chances here. He was strong and confident and played the crucial killer pass in to Marco Pappa for the first goal that took all the wind out of LA Galaxy’s sails.
  • Marco Pappa (Forward) – 9/10 – Man of the match and he was only on the pitch for 20 minutes. He made the difference with a composed finish for the first goal. And with seconds remaining on the clock, his never say die attitude saw him hound the Galaxy ‘keeper, Jaime Penedo, steal the ball and scoop it into the net for the second.
  • Djimi Traore (Defender) – 6/10 – He was on the pitch for all of 30 seconds so had no chance of making an impact.

LA Galaxy:

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  • Jaime Penedo (Goalkeeper) – 5/10 – He made a shocking error for the second goal. He didn’t have a terrible game beforehand but allowing an opposing player to dispossess you when you play in goal is unacceptable. He certainly won’t want to see it again.
  • Dan Gargan (Defender) – 6/10 – He linked up well with the Galaxy midfield but his positioning was questionable for the first goal and he’ll be disappointed that he wasn’t able to do more in order to prevent Marco Pappa.
  • Leonardo (Defender) – 6/10 – The Galaxy back line had relatively little to do throughout this game in terms of defensive work, so to concede two goals is disappointing for the centre-backs.
  • A. J. DeLaGarza (Defender) – 6/10 – He will be disappointed with how open they left themselves for the first goal with the game so delicately poised at 0-0.
  • Robbie Rogers (Defender) – 7/10 – One of the better performers on the day for LA Galaxy. He put in a real shift but to no avail.
  • Baggio Husidic (Midfielder) – 6/10 – He was reliable on the ball but struggled to make an impact from the wide areas.
  • Juninho (Midfielder) – 7/10 – The midfield maestro was strong in possession and shifted the ball about nicely but it wasn’t enough to carve an opening through the solid Sounders defence.
  • Marcelo Sarvas (Midfielder) – 7/10 – He battled well and his passing was brilliant. He didn’t shy away from challenges and provided great support for fellow midfielder, Juninho.
  • Stefan Ishizaki (Midfielder) – 6/10 – LA would have hoped for more from the Swede. His passing was disappointing for a position normally associated with accuracy. (70% accuracy according to whoscored.com)
  • Gyasi Zardes (Forward) – 6/10 – He made good runs in behind and worked tirelessly to create an opening but it wasn’t a good day to be playing up front for LA Galaxy with such limited opportunities.
  • Landon Donovan (Forward) – 6/10 – The club legend almost appeared to be trying too hard to make something happen for his side. You can’t fault his work-rate and effort, but it just didn’t come off for him in his final regular season game.
  • Alan Gordon (Forward) – 5/10 – LA Galaxy’s best chance of the game fell to his feet late on but it’s fair to say that he somewhat fluffed his lines.
  • Jose Villarreal (Forward) – 6/10 – He only entered the field of play for the last few minutes of the game so he couldn’t impose himself on the game.

Attentions will now turn to the playoffs for these two sides and there is a strong possibility that they could meet each other again in the Western Conference finals.

Which team will go further in the MLS Playoffs, Seattle Sounders or LA Galaxy?