CARSON, Calif. – The word “rivalry” can be thrown around too loosely in sports, and perhaps that’s the case when describing the nature of the competition between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. However, it’s undeniable that there is a bit of extra intensity every time they face-off, and it’s likely we’ll see that on Sunday night at the Home Depot Center in the Western Conference Championship (9 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN 2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“I don’t know that I sense like a rivalry in the same fashion as a Colorado [versus] Real Salt Lake or a probably LA [versus] Chivas type of deal,” said RSL head coach Kreis when assessing the matchup after training on Friday. “I think the games have always really respectfully been played – very competitive, but a lot of good soccer.”
Midfielder Ned Grabavoy weighed in with his thoughts on the matter, touching on why these two sides have been able to play so many high-intensity games against one another without devolving into some of the extracurriculars that have colored other playoff rounds.
“You get that because I think there’s a mutual respect between both teams,” said Grabavoy. “We respect them and what they’re capable of and I think that they probably do as well for us. And I think that’s obviously going to make for a great game.”
The feeling appears to be similar from the Galaxy camp.
“We’ve consistently – both teams – have been the best in the league for a few years now,” said midfielder Landon Donovan, after his squad’s training session. “It’s not a nasty rivalry, but clearly they’re great games and we expect the same tomorrow.”
RSL defender Nat Borchers characterized it a bit differently than his coach.
“I think we’ve built up a good rivalry with them,” said Borchers after training at the Home Depot Center on Saturday. “If you look at the two games we played this year, we beat them at our house, and we came out here and they beat us, and they were both hard-fought games.”
Whether your rivalry-meter classifies this as such, one thing is certain: The success of the two sides in recent years means the matchups between the teams are typically competitive. Real Salt Lake won MLS Cup in 2009, and fought to the CCL final this spring while finishing second and third in the league over the last two seasons. The Galaxy have won the Supporters Shield two consecutive years, while achieving 59 and 67 points over those seasons.
“They’ve been successful over the last three or four years, just like we have,” said Borchers. “And it seems like every time we play against these guys it brings out the best in us.”