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MLS Cup: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake (The Pre-Match Preview)

MLS Cup

The Los Angeles Galaxy faces Real Salt Lake in the 2009 MLS Cup Final tonight (8:30pm, ESPN/Galavision) in a match-up of teams that each seemed like MLS Cup long-shots at certain points in the season.

The Galaxy looked far from a title team through the season's first two months, but Bruce Arena's club came together during the summer and kicked into a new gear when David Beckham finally arrived during the summer.

Real Salt Lake came into the year with higher expectations after coming so close to an MLS Cup Final appearance last year, but inconsistent form through most of the season turned RSL into an afterthought in a loaded Western Conference. Jason Kreis' team eventually found its stride late in the year and reached the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, but did so playing as we as it had all year.

The Galaxy will be heavily favored, but with Real Salt Lake riding a wave of confidence and good form, tonight's MLS Cup Final is anyone's to win.

Here is a closer at tonight's final:

TOP MATCH-UPS TO WATCH

Kyle Beckerman vs. David Beckham. David Beckham is nursing an injured right ankle, and is expected to take a pain-killing injection to play tonight. With his movement limited, it will be up to Beckerman to not only contain the English star, but also to press forward into attack on occasions in order to force Beckham to defend and move. If RSL is going to pull the upset, Beckerman needs to win this battle.

Robbie Findley vs. Omar Gonzalez. The Galaxy's lack of pace in defense is well-chronicled and Findley's blazing speed will should cause problems for the centerback tandem of Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter. The key for LA is cutting off the service to Findley from midfield, but if and when RSL slips in some dangerous passes, Gonzalez will likely be called on to try and stay with Findley.

Javier Morales vs. Dema Kovalenko. These former midfield teammates do battle in what should be a physical encounter. Kovalenko does a good job of covering a lot of ground in midfield, but he does have a habit of sliding out of position to help teammates defensively.  He won't have that luxury tonight because he needs to focus on Morales and not letting the Argentine playmaker get too many clear looks.

Landon Donovan vs. Robbie Russell. Donovan will be vying for his fourth MLS Cup title and he will look to burn Russell to do so. Russell has taken over as the starter at right back for Tony Beltran and he has the quickness to try and deal with Donovan, but he's also prone to mistakes and could struggle to keep tabs on Donovan as the Galaxy star floats all over midfield looking for cracks in the RSL defense.

Jamison Olave vs. Edson Buddle. Buddle's combination of size and deceptive quickness can trouble defenders, but Olave boasts great physical qualities as well and will be called on to limit Buddle's space.

Will Johnson vs. Sean Franklin. There are plenty of big names in this match, but this battle could be just as important as any of the rest. Johnson is an underrated midfielder who isn't a traditional left winger, but more of a floater who's energy and work rate provides great support for players like Javier Morales and Andy Williams. It will be up to Franklin to try and match Johnson's effort, while also taking advantage of chances to get forward. If Franklin can force Johnson to defend, that will diminish his contributions to an RSL attack that is tough to stop when it is clicking.

X FACTORS

Todd Dunivant and Yura Movsisyan. Why might a left back play such a key role tonight? With RSL right back Robbie Russell dealing with Donovan, and with projected RSL right winger Andy Williams not a true winger and not a great defender, Dunivant could have a field day getting forward and finding space to deliver some quality service to the Galaxy forwards.

As for Movsisyan, his combination of size and speed should help him exploit any mistakes or gaps the Galaxy leaves as its defense tries to cope with Findley and Morales.

OUTLOOK

Los Angeles is the heavy favorite, but anyone who watched Real Salt Lake's playoff run knows the match-up is much closer than that.

RSL's defense has stepped it up in the playoffs and is capable of neutralizing the Galaxy's attack, especially if Beckham can't play or is seriously limited.

One of the to the match will be how the Galaxy defense copes with RSL's attack. The battle begins in midfield, where Kovalenko and Beckham will need to control the possession game against the combination of Morales and Beckerman. If RSL's midfield has limited time on the ball to pick out Findley and Movsisyan then the Galaxy back-line will have a much better chance to contain RSL.

Ultimately, I see the Galaxy prevailing on the strength of Donovan's ability to step up in championship matches, and Bruce Arena's edge in experience over Jason Kreis. Donovan hasn't really dominated a match yet in these playoffs, but he has delivered in the MLS Cup Final before and he will rise to the occasion tonight. If Beckham can complement Donovan with his own productive performance, then Los Angeles will create enough chances to crack RSL's tough back-line. The Galaxy prevails, 2-1.

What do you think of tonight's match? Who do you see playing the biggest role in the match? Think a surprising star will emerge? Who do you see winning?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. IVES is becoming a cult hero, at least he’s becoming mine. Let me be the first then to start the rumor: IVES IS DEAD! IVES IS DEAD! Ghost writer go away. AWAY! Rumors of IVES sightings are absolutely unfounded.

    He was a legend in Blogosphere. Great man.

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  2. as an LA fan I’ve waited 3 years for this beautiful day,time to treasure it.Loser of the final can always be thankful for not being a Wigan supporter instead

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  3. Why is LA a big favorite? Yes I am an RSL fan who sat through many yucky seasons at Rice Ecles Stadium. it seems as if the media is in the tank with LA because of Beckham and Donovan. RSL is a good team and is used to playing on turf and in these cold and wet conditions. Not to mention the speed that Findley, Espindola etc bring will shred the Galaxy defense….

    RSL wins th ecup and proves the media wrong….again…:)

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  4. I’m surprised how many people are calling LA a big favorite (though the online bookmakers have it somewhat even). I don’t care about season records, I care about current form. That’s really all that matters, and like most MLS Cups, this one is a complete toss up.

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  5. Are you kidding me? I’ll bet you that the Cup get’s higher ratings then the Philly-Bears game. You forget Beckham is in a final, and a lot of people tune in for that type of moument. It will be sad to dissappoint all of those Beckham fans, since RSL is clearly the better team! GO RSL!!!!

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  6. MLS Cup is always on a Sunday dude, it’s not like competing with the NFL is anything new.

    As for who will watch it, I would expect most people that follow MLS will be tuned in.

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  7. Who’s going to watch this game? If the ratings were low when the final was shown on ABC, it should be next to nothing now that it will be shown against NFL, and with Univision showing the game on Galavision. I know I won’t be watching.

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  8. I think Andy Williams is gonna be the X factor this game. If he can be effective and drag defenders away from Morales, then RSL will win the midfield battle and Findley/Espindola/Yura will have good service and get a few goals. RSL’s best defense is their offense, if they keep possession, LA doesn’t have a chance to score. Landycakes has the potential to win any game he plays in though. Should be a great game, but if both teams play like they have in the last few playoff games I think RSL has a slight advantage.

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  9. This is Salt Lake’s year if they don’t mess it up. They’re fast up top with Findley and Movsisyan, strong in the midfield with Beckerman and morales and has been solid in the back in the playoffs so far. Findley and Movsisyan need to make the most of their opportunities. They had 3 one on one opportunities against Chicago, and wasted them all. They need to sharper against LA and they will take the cup to utah.

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  10. It will be 1-0 RSL in overtime. Clint Mathis!

    LA’s only hope is if Donovan scores on a penalty. Or if Beckham scores on a fluke bouncer into the box.

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  11. The time draws neigh. RSL’s dream season will soon come to a close. SOrry boys, but my Galaxy is going to bring it. Gonzalez has deceptive speed and can handle Findley despite all the banter about it.

    I see a 3-0 final and star #3 posting over the symbol on every Galaxy jersey…

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  12. I cannot wait for tonight! To echo the sentiments of others, it should be a great game and also a chance for stars like Donovan, Beckham, Beckerman, and Findley to shine.

    On another note, have you, Ives, found a video highlight of the Tottenham/Wigan goal feast? I was searching earlier but couldn’t find a good one.

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  13. “C’mon MLS, don’t screw this up for us!”

    Really?

    That’s sad, pathetic way to go through life. Thinking these kinds of thoughts …

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  14. I agree with you. I’ve seen a few polls that show people expect the galaxy to win, but when RSL plays to its potential no team in MLS can keep them scoreless. And yes, wet turf sucks (even though Seattle fans are great) and that may hurt your possession game. I hope to see a great game with no ridiculous power outages or goals waved off for mystery reasons. C’mon MLS, don’t screw this up for us!

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  15. I think one of the x-factors you missed is going to be the wet turf. Turf is bad, wet turf is even worse. So it will be interesting to see what team handles that the best. I think this could be anybody’s game and I think we’ll see some goals. As an RSL fan, I’m worried about playing L.A. as they are a good team with lots of experience and technical players. But, I feel like they are like RSL in that both teams became better later in the season. If RSL can keep their heads in the game and play great possession soccer like they have been, I’d put my money on them tonight. But, like I said, I feel like it is going to be a great matchup and it could be anybody’s game.

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