Real Salt Lake-Galaxy Preview
Aside from a new coach, not much about the Real Salt Lake team that reached the 2013 MLS Cup final has changed. Even the injuries are back for 2014.
The Los Angeles Galaxy, meanwhile, are reloaded and will open the season with the face of the franchise ready to play Saturday at home against Salt Lake after beginning the 2013 season away from the sport.
While first-year Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar will be without forwards Robbie Findley and Devon Sandoval and could be missing defender Chris Schuler, Los Angeles is healthy as it tries to avenge a Western Conference semifinal exit at the hands of Salt Lake. And co-MLS all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan will begin the year with the team, just at a different position.
The Galaxy (15-11-8) have added a few big targets up top to compliment returning top scorer Robbie Keane. With 6-foot-1 Samuel and 6-5 Rob Friend on board, Donovan is likely to return to the midfield.
"I can play wherever I’m needed," Donovan told the team’s official website. "But it would be nice to have some other guys take some pressure off. Those guys seem eager and hungry to make an impact."
They’re also eager to play with him.
"I think he’s a great player. He’s obviously known around the world," Samuel said. "Up top I was prepared knowing that he can give a great pass and that I need to be ready to score."
Donovan ended 2013 with 10 goals in 21 regular-season starts, tying him with retired Jeff Cunningham atop the league’s all-time list with 134 goals.
Keane, who was fourth in the league with 16 goals in just 22 regular-season starts and recently inked a new multiyear deal with Los Angeles, will be forced to adjust to striking partners with an attacking style that might not be as similar to the dynamic he shared with Donovan.
"It doesn’t take really that long," said Keane, who is coming back from offseason surgery on both Achilles. "You kind of understand them fairly quickly – or I do, anyways."
In the playoffs, the Donovan-Keane partnership produced very little against Real Salt Lake (16-10-8). The Galaxy’s season ended on a 2-1 aggregate and Keane and Donovan were held without a goal. Salt Lake was likely on high alert after Keane had a hat trick as the Galaxy won 4-2 on Aug. 17 to capture two of three regular-season meetings.
Salt Lake will have top scorer Alvaro Saborio and his 12 goals in 15 starts available in the opener. He tuned up for the season with a goal Wednesday in Costa Rica’s 2-1 World Cup warm-up victory over Paraguay.
Saborio also scored after coming on as a substitute in Salt Lake’s 1-1 draw with Chivas USA last Saturday, which gave him three goals in the last two preseason matches.
Behind Saborio, Salt Lake features MLS veterans Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, who help create what New York Red Bulls standout Thierry Henry called the league’s best passing team. Add emerging 20-year-old Luis Gil to the mix and Salt Lake believes another deep playoff run is possible without adding much.
"I think that when it comes to making moves, it doesn’t have to be a big-name player," defender Nat Borchers told the league’s official website. "It just has to be somebody that helps us win games. I think we’ve done a great job with our value picks and working to integrate those players into our philosophy."