MLS Soccer Desert Diamond Cup: LA, Salt Lake only alike in their success

2012-02-22T00:00:00Z MLS Soccer Desert Diamond Cup: LA, Salt Lake only alike in their successDave Ord Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 22, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The common thread between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake is just that - a thread.

Aside from winning, little else connects the two MLS Western Conference teams playing in the Desert Diamond Cup matches at Kino Sports Complex over the next 10 days.

Like where it's from - Los Angeles - the Galaxy is glitzy, has plenty of stars and gets much of the national attention. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are names known all over the world.

Real Salt Lake's name might have regal trappings - Real means "royal" in Spanish and happens to be the first name of one of the world's most popular teams, Real Madrid - but the team from Utah hardly fits that build. It doesn't have players who appear half-naked in H&M advertising campaigns or have a major deal with Seiko watches.

But both teams know how to come out on the better end of the scoreboard. They've both been to the playoffs in each of the last three years. In that time, each squad has won an MLS Cup. Last year, the Galaxy eliminated Real Salt Lake in the conference finals en route to winning the title. In 2009, RSL beat L.A. in the final for its first MLS Cup.

Each has found its own formula for success.

You could say the Galaxy revolves around a pair of stars - creative midfielders Beckham and Donovan.

Donovan, who finished tied for fifth in the league last year with 12 goals, returns from a prosperous loan spell in England with Everton. Beckham, who was second in the MLS with 15 assists, was all but signed to play for French club Paris Saint-Germain before surprisingly returning to L.A. and inking a two-year deal.

Los Angeles will benefit this year from having the Irishman, Keane, for the whole season. Throw in former L.A. star Edson Buddle, who returns from a one-year hiatus, and you have the makings of a repeat.

Any celebration in November, however, will also depend on an underrated defense that gave up the fewest goals (28) in the MLS in 2011. The prospects of reaching that level again are dimmer without central defender Omar Gonzalez, who tore an ACL in January.

Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, builds from the back, depends heavily on holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman and plays a working man's style that usually ends at the feet of arguably the top pair of forwards in the MLS - Alvaro Saborio (11 goals in 2011) and Fabian Espindola (10 goals).

That combination last season helped RSL pull off some impressive results in Panama and Mexico en route to becoming the first MLS team to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final in 11 years.

RSL's defense allowed 36 goals last year, tied for second-fewest, but key cog Robbie Russell was traded, and adjustments will need to be made.

Differing settings and styles haven't kept Salt Lake and Los Angeles from meeting when postseason advancement was on the line in the past. It's not hard to believe that their thread could add another twist in the 2012 playoffs.

Did you know?

Major League Soccer has added at least one team in each of the past four seasons. This year's new team is the Montreal Impact. The new clubs in 2011 were the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Nine teams have been added since 2005.

LOS ANGELES

• Started: 1996 (original member)

• 2011: 1st in Western Conference, 19-5-10, defeated Houston for MLS Cup title

• MLS Cup: Winner - 2002, 2005, 2011; runner-up - 1996, 1999, 2001, 2009

• Keep your eyes on: No 23, midfielder David Beckham. Like you need to be told to watch him. But he's back after many thought he wouldn't be. Whether you want to see his kicks or his pecs, he's still got style.

• New name: No. 14, forward Edson Buddle. In this case, the new name is actually an old name. After four seasons and 42 goals with the Galaxy, Buddle decided to try his luck in the German second division. After one year, he's back as another star in the already packed Galaxy.

REAL SALT LAKE

• Started: 2005

• 2011: 3rd in Western Conference, 15-11-8, lost in conference finals to Los Angeles

• MLS Cup: Winner - 2009

• Keep your eyes on: No. 5, midfielder Kyle Beckerman. He's hard to miss, partly because of his dreadlocks but more importantly because he seems to be almost everywhere on the field.

• New name: No. 19, midfielder Enzo Martinez. The enthusiastic 21-year-old was born in Uruguay, moved to the United States at age 10 and played college ball at North Carolina before being drafted recently by Real Salt Lake. At 5-7, he does his standing out with the ball at his feet.

If you go

• What: Desert Diamond Cup

• Where: Kino Stadium

• Who: New England Revolution vs. L.A. Galaxy, 6 p.m. today; Real Salt Lake vs. New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m. today

• Upcoming: Doubleheaders Saturday, Feb. 29 and March 3

• Tickets: www.fctucson.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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