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Galaxy-Real Salt Lake is a matchup of familiar foes

Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy meet Sunday in the MLS Western Conference final. The teams are well acquainted with each other and with the playoffs.

November 05, 2011|By Kevin Baxter
  • Galaxy midfielder David Beckham collides with Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson during second half of an MLS game that L.A. won, 2-1, last month.
Galaxy midfielder David Beckham collides with Real Salt Lake midfielder… (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)

There will be no need for introductions or name tags when the Galaxy and its old foe Real Salt Lake square off in Major League Soccer's Western Conference final Sunday at the Home Depot Center.

"We know each other well, there's no doubt," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. "We know how they play, they know how we play."

Added Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena: "It's not like we need to alert our players who we're playing, who's on the field, what they do."

Or what they do at this time of year, since both teams are also quite familiar with the playoffs. The Galaxy, which beat the New York Red Bulls twice in a two-leg conference semifinal series, is playing in a conference final for the third consecutive season. Real Salt Lake, which beat Seattle on aggregate goals in its semifinal matchup, has been here three times in the last four seasons.

But the teams will be renewing their growing rivalry in the postseason for the first time since the 2009 MLS Cup final, which Real Salt Lake won on penalty kicks.

"There's a lot of that L.A.-Salt Lake City rivalry that goes beyond just soccer," said Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, a former teammate of Donovan on the U.S. under-17 national team. "The fans of our league have seen some really good soccer from both teams."

Neither will be at full strength Sunday, however. The Galaxy is still struggling to find chemistry with Irish import Robbie Keane up front and midfielder David Beckham is feeling the effects of a collision with New York's Dane Richards in the first half of Thursday's win.

"He's gotten beat up," Donovan said of Beckham, who skipped training Friday but pronounced himself ready after Saturday's practice. "I've seen that guy go through a lot. They would have had to carry him off the field. That shows a lot about his character."

Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, has played through injuries all season and will probably have to do it again Sunday since the status of center backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers — perhaps the best tandem in MLS — is unlikely to be decided until just before kickoff. Both defenders came out of Real Salt Lake's first playoff game with quadriceps strains.

Yet even the healthy players are likely to be fatigued since both teams will be playing for the third time in nine days, the product of a compressed schedule the MLS adopted to clear its calendar for this week's international FIFA fixture dates.

"I don't remember one where we've had to play three times in a week before," Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerway said of the playoff format. "It is what it is. It's not like it's the league's fault. There's nothing anybody can do about it."

At least they only have to play once. Unlike the previous round of the playoffs, which was a two-leg series decided by aggregate goals, the conference championship is one winner-take-all game.

"It's easy math," said Arena, whose team hasn't lost at the Home Depot Center this season. "It's one game. You win, you go on. You lose, you go home."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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