• Both sides looking for advantage of home playoff position
• Espindola and Saborio back among goals for visitors
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Do you remember how young and full of certainties we all were in March? A new MLS season was upon us, and LA were going to sweep all before them, once again. They’d stacked an already successful squad, were poised to take the next step for MLS sides in CCL competition (with just a formality of a clash against Toronto in their way), and nothing could spoil it all.
Do you remember how young and full of certainties we were at the end of May? LA were, in the words of a league official I overheard at a Home Depot Center loss, “stinking the place up”. Their vaunted attack was misfiring, their Omar-Gonzalez-deprived defense was leaking goals, and games they’d been winning 1-0 last season, they...well they weren’t winning. Toronto had bundled them out of the Champions League, they had lost to their Home Depot room mates Chivas USA and were rooted near the bottom of the Western Conference with key players about to absent themselves for Euros, Olympics, World Cup Qualifying campaigns and other activities infinitely more fun and glamorous than grinding back into play-off contention.
So now we are older and wiser and nobody’s going to commit to anything before tonight’s game, other than to say that since that low point, senior players began to step up and assume more accountability and the results began to pick up. For once other sides were grabbing the headlines and going on eye-catching streaks, but in the meantime the Galaxy, with Gonzalez returning to the defense, quietly went on a streak that saw them only lose one game since the 4th July (though it was a pretty emphatic 4-0 loss to the Sounders), and now they find themselves coming into tonight’s game with a play-off spot confirmed and the chance to put the pressure on fourth placed Seattle, by putting some distance between themselves and the wild card game for 4th and 5th placed finishers, with a win tonight.
Some things never change. This time last year, a clash between Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake meant a clash between two of the most formidably consistent sides in the league. Indeed, as technical clashes go, my favourite game of last season was the Western Conference final between these two sides, where the Galaxy prevailed en route to winning MLS Cup. And if you just looked at the standings and recent stats, other than a raised eyebrow at the Earthquakes at the top of the West, you’d probably a) look at the fact that the Galaxy are in relentless form, and that RSL have qualified for their fifth consecutive play-off spot b) note that it’s clash between 2nd and 3rd in the West and c) think that this season had been pretty much business as usual.
More on why that hasn’t quite been the case shortly, but whatever circuitous route both sides have taken to get to this stage of the season, both sides are sitting pretty going into tonight’s game. The Galaxy have secured a play-off spot with games to spare, in a season that threatened to implode around them, while RSL have rediscovered their scoring touch at just the right moment, with the last two games seeing Fabian Espindola ending his personal goal drought and then Alvaro Saborio scoring his second career hat trick last time out against Chivas.
Despite both sides having assured their play-off positions, both will be looking to press their case for second place and the chance at home field advantage that comes with it. A win for the Galaxy tonight would really put the pressure on Seattle before tomorrow night’s difficult Cascadia Cup clash with Portland, while a Real victory would pretty much put them over the line for second place, especially with the Galaxy still to face San Jose and Seattle in a tough run-in.
I’ll be back with more build up and team news shortly - in the meantime get your pithy tweets coming in to @KidWeil or relax and enjoy the extended rant potential of a good email (ideally with attached spreadsheets showing possible playoff scenarios) dispatched to firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’ll be back in a bit, after you’ve watched the appetizer of last year’s Western Conference final.