CARSON -- The Galaxy remember their last meeting with Real Salt Lake, and they don't want to re-live it. It was a 4-1 defeat back in March, and the Utahns put on a possession clinic, stringing together dozens of passes -- again and again -- in what might stand as the comprehensive loss L.A. has ever suffered.
Landon Donovan called it a “wakeup call,” and David Beckham remembered it as “a kick up the backside ... and we deserved to get our backsides kicked.”
RSL hasn't been as good at any time since. The Galaxy haven't been as bad. And when they meet Saturday night at Home Depot Center, they'll be inhabiting very different roles.
Now it is L.A. (17-3-10) that's on top, its evolution from counterattacking side to possession team in full flower, streaking toward successive Supporters' Shields -- and with a possibility of clinching with a victory.
RSL (15-9-6), which at season's start might have been playing the finest soccer MLS had ever seen, continues to seek consistency after a peaks-and-valleys campaign that has it third in the standings -- and on target for an opening playoff series against mighty Seattle.
“It was an interesting period,” defender Todd Dunivant, looking back to the March 26 meeting, noted Friday. “They were at their best, their confidence was flying high, they were doing well in [CONCACAF] Champions League, and that team was absolutely on fire. They came out and played incredibly -- you have to tip your hat to them.
“But we also had one of our worst games. That combination was kind of what you saw. Since then, I think you've seen a tale of two different teams.”
The Galaxy have been virtually unbeatable in league play, going 13-1-7 since a May 1 loss at FC Dallas. They bring in three-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, have won eight of their last 10 and can clinch the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield trophies with a victory if Seattle fails to win in New England, which seems unlikely.
“That would be pretty big,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “We don't anticipate that happening. That means a lot of things have to fall into place for us. But we're just going to do what we've done all year, just deal with this game, and then react accordingly and deal with the next one.”
Beckham is expected to return after missing two matches -- he was given the night off for last weekend's victory at Columbus and was suspended for Wednesday night's Champions League triumph over Morelia -- and Irish forward Robbie Keane says he's ready to go after missing those games with a gluteal injury.
Several others are close to returning, but with a 12-day break after Tuesday's makeup game at New York, Arena says that “all things being equal, we'll go on the side of caution in terms of bringing some of these guys back.”
RSL is coming off one-sided losses at D.C. United and to Chicago. In the first, the Lions played a secondary lineup and got stamped right away. The Fire's victory Wednesday was fueled by RSL captain Kyle Beckerman's dismissal for head-butting former Cal State Northridge star Daniel Paladini.
Beckerman, a popular name among MVP contenders for his work solidifying RSL after playmaker Javier Morales' ankle injury left a massive hole in the attack, apologized for the incident, telling the league's website that “it's not like me” and “that play has no place here in our games in MLS.”
He'll miss the game at Home Depot Center, and that will have an impact. So might Morales' return to the starting lineup -- the Argentine midfielder played against Chicago, his first appearance since May 7.
"[Beckerman's absence is] big,” said Donovan, a teammate of the dreadlocked holding midfielder with the U.S. national team. “He's a big part of every team he plays for -- his energy, his leadership, his determination, and they rely on him.”
Said Dunivant: “He's their leader, their rock in the back. Not having him will help us, for sure. ... But they'll have Morales back, and that's going to be a big boost for them. You can already see it: It's kind of lifted their team a little bit.”
WORTH NOTING: Keane is slated to leave Sunday to join Ireland's national team for its Euro 2012 qualifiers next Friday at Andorra and Oct. 11 in Dublin against Armenia. The Irish (4-1-3) are second in Group B, two points behind Russia and one in front of Armenia and Slovakia, with two games to go. The group winner qualifies, and the No. 2 team likely goes to a playoff. ... The Galaxy needs one more shutout to tie Kansas City's league record, 17, set over 32 games in 2000, when the Wizards won the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. ... RSL leads the all-time series, 7-6-6, with the biggest triumph coming on penalties in the 2009 MLS Cup final. L.A. is 5-3-1 at HDC. ... The Galaxy is 10-0-5 at home. RSL is 5-6-3 on the road. ... RSL left back Chris Wingert has started the last two games after missing the previous six with a fractured wrist. ... Beckham and Frankie Hejduk will be suspended with their next yellow cards.
MISSING: Central defenders Gregg Berhalter (sprained foot), Leonardo and Sean Alvarado (both torn ACLs) remain out, as does midfielder/right back Sean Franklin (inflamed knee). ... Beckham (back spasms), Keane (gluteal tightness), midfielders Mike Magee and Chris Birchall (both hamstring strains), and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (quad tightness) are questionable. Arena said Birchall and Ricketts won't be available.
REAL SALT LAKE
A top MLS forward who never won a regular job with the U.S. national team, Jason Kreis was MLS's first 100-goal man, retiring to take charge of RSL in 2007 with a then-record 108 strikes, now the No. 5 mark. He's an intense and demanding coach who has built RSL into MLS Cup champ (in 2009) and this year took the club to the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Three key players
Forward Fabian Espindola has been in form nearly all season, scoring a career-high nine goals to carry the attack while waiting for Alvaro Saborio, who has 10, to find his game
Big (6-foot-3, 210 points) Colombian Jamison Olave is MLS's premier center back, willing to take chances that pay off for RSL -- in great part because of partner Nat Borchers' superb cover
Montclair's Nick Rimando is among the league's elite goalkeepers, a superb shot-stopper who ably organizes one of MLS's best backlines
Real Salt Lake started the season superbly, then went into a funk after a demoralizing loss to Monterrey in the Champions League final and Morales' injury. Beckerman has been the pivotal figure in the late-season restoration, and the Utahns climbed to second overall with a five-game winning streak that began in late August with a 1-0 win over Chivas USA at HDC. RSL followed with wins over Philadelphia, Seattle, Sporting Kansas City and New York, but they've been blown out twice in the past week: with a second-choice lineup in a 4-1 loss Saturday at D.C. United (with Dwayne De Rosario scoring a hat trick) and in a 3-0 loss Wednesday at home to Chicago (with Marco Pappa netting a hat trick). A playoff berth is secure, but the Supporters' Shield hopes will die with another defeat.
Rimando played at Montclair High School and UCLA. Right back Tony Beltran is a neighbor -- he's from Claremont (Claremont HS) and also played at UCLA. ... Teen playmaker Luis Gil emerged from Santiago High School in Garden Grove. ... No. 2 goalkeeper Kyle Reynish, from Valencia, played at Hart High School and UC Santa Barbara. ... Midfielder Ned Grabavoy was with the Galaxy in 2004-05.
Beckerman is suspended. ... Beltran (adductor strain) and midfielder Nelson Gonzalez (fractured foot) are out. ... Reynish (ankle bone spur) and defender Robbie Russell (hamstring strain) are questionable. ... Morales is probable.
At Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket
Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)
Referee: Kevin Stott