There might be no more difficult road game in Major League Soccer than against Real Salt Lake, a combination of atmosphere, altitude and the fact the home team is probably the best side in the league.
It's the challenge facing the Galaxy following a huge step forward on the weekend, but building upon their first victory in two months isn't all about winning.
L.A. could lose Wednesday night at Real Salt Lake and consider it another stride toward where the team wants to be, which is the playoffs. L.A. is just five points out of fifth place -- and 11 out of third, which avoids the wild-card round -- with 20 games to go, and both of those targets would have been easy pickings last year.
But until Sunday night's 1-0 triumph over Portland, a few short stretches of games aside, the 2012 Galaxy haven't had much in common with their predecessors.
“There's still plenty to play for, and there's plenty of hope,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said following Tuesday's training session at Home Depot Center a few hours before the flight to Utah. “I think what's been most frustrating are results are results. Some days they go your way and some days they don't.
“We've got to be better about how we play. And if we play the way we did Sunday and we'd tied the game or lost the game, I think we could live with that. But it's getting back to playing that way. If we play that way in Salt Lake and don't get the result that we want, I think we can live with that.”
The Galaxy had gone eight games without a victory, its U.S. Open Cup opener included, then put together its most complete performance since a 3-1 romp in March over D.C. United despite missing 11 players to injury, suspension and international duty. Last year it didn't matter who wasn't available, L.A. grinded results regardless of personnel; there were clear echoes of that in Sunday's victory.
The schedule, David Beckham noted, is “never ideal when you play on Sunday and have to travel Tuesday and play at [4,550-foot] altitude on Wednesday,” but prevailing over such circumstances is key to turning this season around.
“It's not an easy task the play three days later against, in my opinion, the best team in the league,” Donovan said. “But if we want to get back to where were were last year, then these are the challenges we need to overcome. Last year we didn't make any excuses about anything, we just went about our business, and we want to get back to that.”
WORTH NOTING: Robbie Keane is expected to rejoin the Galaxy in training Thursday, the team's first work day following the game. Ireland finished last at Euro 2012, dropping all three of its games. “We got beaten three times, but there can't be any complaints to the players,” Keane told media in Poznan, Poland, after Monday's 2-0 loss to Italy in a Group C finale. “We all gave our 100 percent, we can put our hand high and simply say that we were beaten by better boys. Of course, you come to this tournament with an aim to win. ... You never think you will end up on the back foot.” ... Midfielders Mike Magee, Michael Stephens and Hector Jimenez are back from suspension and available for selection, although Jimenez is dealing with a leg injury. ... The all-time series is tied, 8-8-6, after RSL's late rally for a 3-1 victory in a March 10 league opener at HDC. RSL is 8-7-5 in regular-season MLS meetings. ... Donovan said he watched RSL's victory Saturday night over Chivas USA, “and they looked confident and comfortable and they’re firing on all cylinders.” ... The Galaxy are home Saturday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
REAL SALT LAKE
Head coach: Jason Kreis
Key players: M Javier Morales, M Kyle Beckerman, D Jamison Olave, D Nat Borchers, G Nick Rimando, F Fabian Espindola, F Alvaro Saborio, M Will Johnson.
Local guys: Rimando (Montclair/UCLA), D Tony Beltran (Claremont/UCLA), M Luis Gil (Garden Grove), G Kyle Reynish (Valencia/UC Santa Barbara).
Update: MLS-best RSL (32 points) extended its unbeaten streak to seven with an impressive 3-0 victory over Chivas USA at Home Depot Center last weekend. The Lions have tremendous talent all around the field, and Espindola and Saborio are in particularly good form that ought to be enhanced with Morales' return from a quadriceps injury. Borchers and Olave remain the league's best center-back tandem, Beckerman one of the most influential central midfielders and Johnson one of the most underrated of players.
Out: D Andrew Boyens (sports hernia), F Edson Buddle (right knee surgery), F Adam Cristman (concussion), D Omar Gonzalez (left ACL tear), M Dan Keat (right knee surgery), D Leonardo (right knee inflammation).
Questionable: D Bryan Gaul (facial fracture), M Hector Jimenez (left quad hematoma), F Pat Noonan (right quad strain).
REAL SALT LAKE
Out: D Chris Schuler (left foot bone stress response).
Questionable: M Luis Gil (right knee strain), M Sebastian Velasquez (right foot turf toe).
Probable: M Javier Morales (right quadriceps strain), D Jamison Olave (right calf strain).
Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, Utah), 6 p.m.
Referee: Kevin Stott
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKW-AM/1330, Spanish)