In recent years, no two MLS teams have enjoyed the sustained success displayed by Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy. Come Sunday, those Western Conference powers will meet in November once more. Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter
The Galaxy will host Salt Lake in the first leg of a Western Conference semifinal Sunday at 9 pm on ESPN. Since 2009, when RSL defeated LA in the MLS Cup, only those two clubs and the Seattle Sounders have made the playoffs every season.
This year, Salt Lake went 16-10-8 to claim the No. 2 seed while the Galaxy (15-11-8) finished third thanks to a 1-1 draw at Seattle last weekend that allowed them to evade the play-in game. Both teams may be better than their records indicate, though, as they were particularly crippled by international absences throughout the season.
The Galaxy's back line could be short-handed, with Todd Dunivant (knee) and A.J. DeLaGarza (elbow) questionable for the match. DeLaGarza hasn't played since Sept. 14, meaning coach Bruce Arena could deploy rookie Kofi Opare or Leonardo next to Omar Gonzalez in central defense.
Both back lines will have to be alert Sunday, with two of the season's most prolific forwards on hand. The Galaxy's Robbie Keane compiled 16 goals and 11 assists in 23 games, and Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio notched 12 goals in just 16 contests. And Keane's strike partner Landon Donovan produced at an admirable clip himself, with 10 goals and nine assists in 22 matches.
In Salt Lake veteran Nick Rimando and Galaxy newcomer Jaime Penedo, both clubs also boast goalkeepers capable of stealing a result with stellar saves. The central midfield battle should be compelling as well, with the Galaxy's ball-winning duo of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas facing RSL's pairing of destroyer Kyle Beckerman and playmaker Javier Morales. Although the Galaxy's wingers (likely Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers) tend to stay on the flanks, Salt Lake's Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil regularly pinch in to help centrally.
The Galaxy claimed the season series between these teams, winning 2-0 on the road in April and 4-2 at home in August. But Salt Lake did pick up a 3-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in June.
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