Galaxy-Real Salt Lake Preview
Since MLS went to a two-leg conference semifinals playoff format in 2003, the Los Angeles Galaxy have never lost in that round.
Los Angeles heads into the second leg of the Western Conference semis against Real Salt Lake with the advantage Thursday night, but it feels like it should be ahead by much more after dominating play at home in the series opener.
The Galaxy, trying to become the first team to win the MLS Cup three straight times while securing a league-record fifth title, got a goal from Sean Franklin - who scored once in the regular season - in the 48th minute Sunday to come away with a 1-0 lead after the first leg.
And while each team registered two shots on goal, it appeared to be a one-sided match with the Galaxy dominating possession and holding down a Real Salt Lake team that finished first in the West with 57 goals.
"We put a lot of pressure on them throughout the night, so there's going to be some cracks," midfielder Landon Donovan said. "Robbie (Keane) and I need to do a better job with our counter attacks. Usually we're better than that. I have a feeling we're going to have a lot more chances Thursday as the game goes on as they open up and expose themselves, and we're fine with that."
Los Angeles split its two visits to Utah this season, handing Salt Lake one of its three defeats in 17 home matches and being the only team to hold RSL scoreless on its own pitch with a 2-0 victory April 27.
"(That game is) how I picture Thursday will be because they're going to dump numbers in the box and use their big guys to get on frame," defender A.J. DeLaGarza told the Galaxy's official website. "They're going to throw everything forward and they have nothing to lose, but we have to go in like that as well.
"On Sunday, we had many counter attacks, but I don't think that Robbie and Landon will ever miss that many chances again. It's a positive how many chances that they did get, but I think that they'll finish a few of those on Thursday."
Salt Lake, which beat Los Angeles on penalty kicks in the MLS Cup final in 2009 for its only title, is trying to return to the conference finals for the first time since being eliminated by the Galaxy in 2011.
RSL will be playing for the second time in four days after Sunday's game was its first since a 2-1 win over Chivas USA in the regular-season finale Oct. 23.
"I think it's going to be very difficult and then if you succeed you're looking at playing another one three days later," coach Jason Kreis said. "I think that's extremely difficult, I think we have some problems because of all the gaps we've had lately.
"If we can have two weeks in between matches, for us, I think it's really hard to have a consistent rhythm and a flow and a tempo about what we're doing so I say again, if you say you weren't good with the ball in the first half some of that maybe comes down to that we haven't played a game for a week and a half."
Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran can't wait to get back on the field.
"Personally, I like that," he said. "Sometimes a week can seem like such a long time waiting for the next game, so the fact is that I wish it was Wednesday or Tuesday. We'll be ready no matter what."