Fueled by a potent offense, Real Salt Lake has earned more points than any other MLS team.
The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy likely need to shore up their defense just to make sure they reach the playoffs, and signing their top defender to a multiyear deal may be a step toward accomplishing that.
Salt Lake can win the season series for a second straight year Saturday night when it travels to Los Angeles.
Salt Lake (12-7-5) leads the league with 39 goals as well as 41 points. After an 0-2-1 stretch, the club claimed a 1-0 home win over Houston last Saturday with Alvaro Saborio continuing his hot stretch.
Saborio converted a penalty kick in the 37th minute, his ninth goal in 11 matches this season. No other MLS player has more than three goals since July 27, while Saborio has five over that span - not counting one in a 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win over Portland last week.
Nick Rimando made three saves last Saturday for his seventh shutout for RSL, which had given up eight goals in the previous three league matches.
“All-in-all I’m really pleased,” coach Jason Kreis said. “I think we got the result in a different way tonight and I think that’s important heading into the stretch. You have to feel like you can win multiple ways.”
Los Angeles (10-9-4) is 1-2-1 in its last four, pulling into a tie with Seattle for the Western Conference’s fifth and final playoff spot after a 3-3 draw at FC Dallas on Sunday.
Gonzalez was named the league’s top defender while helping the Galaxy to a title in 2011 and won MLS Cup MVP honors when they repeated last season.
“Now more pressure is going to be put on him now that he has that tag on him,” teammate A.J. DeLaGarza told the team’s official website. “And I’m sure that he’ll step up to the occasion.”
Los Angeles is in need of better defense after surrendering eight goals in its last four contests.
While Donovan recorded his fourth career MLS hat trick against Dallas, the Galaxy squandered a 3-2 lead by allowing the tying goal in the 86th minute. All three goals against Los Angeles came on set pieces.
“At the end of the day, it’s good we fought back, but when you have the lead with five minutes to go, you should win the game,” said Donovan, who had totaled three goals in his previous 13 matches.
Los Angeles’ defense was also suspect in a 3-1 loss at Salt Lake on June 8, with Olmes Garcia registering two goals off assists by Javier Morales. The Galaxy claimed a 2-0 road win April 27 in the first meeting.
While Saborio didn’t play in either matchup, Donovan only played the most recent one and did score to give him 10 goals along with 10 assists in 19 matches versus Salt Lake.
The Galaxy are 7-1-2 at home this year, outscoring opponents 18-4, but have lost two in a row at home to RSL.
Salt Lake had never won this season series until claiming a 2-1 edge last year. The all-time series is tied 10-10-6.