SANDY, Utah — It's been almost two-and-a-half months since Real Salt Lake faced off against the LA Galaxy, but Jason Kreis thinks Bruce Arena's side is pretty much the same team it was on Aug. 17.
And that's not a good thing for his team, which suffered a 4-2 loss that wasn't as close as the final score at the StubHub Center.
“I think they're similar,” Kreis told reporters on Monday. “Over the last third of the season, since we saw them, they've had some injury issues to deal with. And they were playing CONCACAF [Champions League] games. They've had a fair amount of rotation.
“I can't say that every week they've played their strongest lineup, but I can say that against us they'll be playing their strongest lineup.”
The Claret-and-Cobalt aren't entirely at full strength themselves ahead of Sunday's first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals (9 pm ET, ESPN), but they're in better shape than they were two years ago when they limped onto the Galaxy's home field in the Western Conference Championship then limped away 3-1 losers.
Midfielder Javier Morales, the sparkplug that ignites RSL's attack, expects to be recovered from a nagging ankle injury that is “not 100 percent, but I have a couple more days, so I think I will be 100 percent.”
Forward Joao Plata and defender Lovel Palmer are both questionable with hamstring strains, as is forward Robbie Findley with patellar tendonitis. But, considering how late it is in the season, RSL are in pretty good shape — and looking forward to facing LA in the playoffs for the third time in five years.
“They are the last champion,” Morales said. “They are a good team. They like to play soccer, so I think it's going to be fun for everyone.”
Kreis agreed: "It's a huge challenge and an opportunity for us to play an incredibly good team — a team that, when we played them this year, proved to be better than us.”
The Galaxy took two out of three from RSL this season, winning 2-0 and losing 3-1 in Utah before winning 4-2 in Carson, Calif.
For RSL, the biggest change to their lineup will be the return of defender Chris Schuler, who was still out with a foot injury in August, leaving 20-year-old Carlos Salcedo to do his best to deal with Robbie Keane — a veteran of the Scottish and English Premier Leagues — who scored a hat trick in the second half.
“I think that [Schuler] gives us just a little bit of a different dimension,” Kreis said. “He gives us a player who can physically put a little bit of fear into forwards. That's something we've lacked.”
Something RSL has lacked all season, the coach said, since Jámison Olave was traded to New York.
“It's something anybody that plays for our team needs to recognize,” Kreis said. “We can't just allow forwards to have an easy day against us. I felt that too often this entire season we've allowed that.”