The battle for the MLS championship comes down to a few keys, but there's a clear choice for favorite and underdog.
The pregame buildup and hype is over. Today, the Major League Soccer champion will be crowned.
Real Salt Lake has accepted its role as underdog. It’s the fourth seed out of the Eastern Conference. The Los Angeles Galaxy is here as the clear-cut favorite, winning the Western Conference with two of the best players in the world.
David Beckham and Landon Donovan have a very good supporting cast, featuring MLS Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez, a central defender, and a coach, Bruce Arena, who was won multiple MLS titles with D.C. United.
On paper, this should be Galaxy all the way. But there is a game on the field to be played, and it could come down to the following keys:
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Beckham is known for his free kicks and long balls. Real Salt Lake has to keep the international superstar out of the middle of the field.
“It’s going to be about field positioning and who’s controlling the game, what midfield is controlling the game and creating chances for their forwards,” Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “And then what forwards will step up and score.”
Beckerman added that RSL will try to dominate the midfield.
“If we’re doing that, then he [Beckham] won’t be in the middle,” he said. “He’ll be out of the midfield looking for the ball.”
Chris Klein is part of the Galaxy’s midfield, with Beckham and Dema Kovalenko.
“When Salt Lake does well, they impose their will and their style on other teams,” Klein said. “They possess the ball very well and then they break you down with speed up top.”
Donovan said RSL’s midfield is its strength.
“When they get the ball and get moving and they’re active and they have a good rhythm, they’re a very difficult team to beat,” he said. “They’ve had it in some of their games a little bit too easy to do those things. We’re going to make it difficult.”
For Real Salt Lake, this means keeping Donovan, Beckham and forward Edson Buddle in check. The Galaxy see this as a strength, even though Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza are rookies. Los Angeles played a more defensive game earlier in the season without Donovan and Beckham in the lineup consistently.
“When we’ve done well, we’ve been very organized defensively, and then when we break out we break out in a coordinated attack with our weapons,” Klein said.
The way the ball bounces
Playing on FieldTurf at Qwest Field on what could be a rainy night will only make the ball bounce and skip higher and faster. Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake’s goalkeeper, calls playing on the slick turf “a nightmare.”
The advantage goes to RSL. The Galaxy plays on grass at the Home Depot Center; Real Salt Lake’s former home, Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, had an artificial surface.
Real Salt Lake just can’t get much respect with its 11-12-7 regular-season record.
“It’s us against everyone else at the moment,” RSL forward Yura Movsisyan said. Then he was asked if he’d heard of anyone picking his team to win.
“Yeah,” Movsisyan said. “My dad.”
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org