SANDY, Utah — When Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy meet at The Home Depot Center on Sunday in the Western Conference Championship (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2; live chat on MLSsoccer.com), it will undoubtedly dredge up memories for both sides of MLS Cup 2009.
That’s the last time these two squads met in the playoffs, and it produced RSL’s first – and still only – major trophy. The Galaxy, meanwhile, left Seattle that cool November night defeated and dispirited, but have gone on to take consecutive Supporters’ Shields, pipping RSL at the wire in 2010 before running away with it this season.
Which is by way of saying, these are two successful teams that have developed a bit of a feud in the past two years.
“It’s a good rivalry," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. “I think it all started from MLS Cup. The last four years we’ve been consistent with our play, and got to where the Galaxy have always been. We’re their competition, I think.”
RSL find themselves in the Conference Championship for the third time in the last four years, while the Galaxy are there for the second time in three. That fact signifies an important evolution in recent years, as RSL have reached “perennial contender” status and the Galaxy have reclaimed that mantle after a three-year lull from 2006-08.
But for midfielder Will Johnson, it would be a danger to expect that fact to be self-perpetuating. It takes a lot of hard work and focus.
“Once you start taking things like that for granted is when you start to slip up,” explained Johnson. “We’ve built a base. We’ve built a winning mentality of a top club here. We just try to achieve our goal of being a consistently elite team in this league. That’s what RSL are all about.”
Head coach Jason Kreis, for one, is looking forward to this weekend’s matchup, and the chance to prove his side can handle the pressure of playing the best the league has to offer in rapid succession.
“The games [against LA] have always been respectfully played,” said the RSL manager. “[They have been] very competitive, but a lot of really good soccer. And fun to watch games, and fun to be a part of.
“To face the second place team in the first round, and now the first place team in the second round – I think it’s great. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
In regular season competition since 2007 – the year Kreis took over for RSL – the two sides have competed on largely even terms. The Claret-and-Cobalt holding a slight edge over the Galaxy with a 4-3-4 record over that 11-game stretch, but it’s that one previous meeting in the playoffs that likely means the most.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup, and it always is,” said Rimando. “And in the back of their minds is going to be that ’09 Championship game.”