CARSON, Calif. — Real Salt Lake's 2012 preseason was a relatively short one by normal standards, but even then, Kyle Beckerman said it was still too long.
"We're ready to get going," said an antsy Beckerman earlier this week.
For Beckerman and his teammates, the wait is finally over. RSL kicks off the regular season Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. in a Western Conference final rematch with the L.A. Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
Aside from soccer fans north of the border who are clamoring for the Vancouver-Montreal showdown, RSL's visit to L.A. is arguably the most anticipated match of the opening weekend of the MLS season.
There's always been a bit of a rivalry between the teams, but RSL's victory over L.A. in MLS Cup 2009 took it to another level. The Galaxy returned the favor a year ago with a 3-1 victory in the playoffs, a match some dubbed the best playoff game in league history.
The league certainly didn't make Real Salt Lake wait long for its own payback.
"Whenever we play the Galaxy, there's a lot of battling on the field, over the ball stuff, elbows, stuff like that," said RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
Since the 2009 championship, their battles have always been top-of-the-table clashes, and it's easy to understand where the extra intensity stems from. There's another dynamic that adds to the rivalry — big market vs. small market.
"It's two teams that have built their teams completely differently. We've built our team with better-than-average players. They built their team with world superstars. It's an interesting dynamic," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
The MLS Players Union hasn't released 2012 salary information yet, but there was a huge disparity between the teams last year. With David Beckham and Robbie Keane back to try and help the Galaxy defend the title, it's hard to imagine L.A.'s salary decreasing this year.
Los Angeles' base team payroll in 2011 was $12.79 million, while Real Salt Lake's was just $3.53 million.
As a player, Kreis succeeded as an underdog. As a coach, he's said repeatedly he relishes the challenge to compete despite a smaller payroll.
Unfortunately for Kreis, his team won't be at full strength heading into the opener. Will Johnson is out for sure, and earlier in the week Kreis said he'd be surprised if Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morales, Nat Borchers and Jonny Steele were available either.
RSL keeper Nick Rimando said he expects his team to compete no matter what.
"We're excited. We'd like to be a little more healthy. We just want to get the wheels going and to play that first game and get it underneath our belt and get the season underway," said Rimando.
With so many key players doubtful or unavailable, one or two RSL rookies could be making their debut Saturday night. One of them is 21-year-old Sebastian Velasquez, who the coaches said had a great preseason.
"It would be awesome to get a couple minutes. To be honest, I never thought I'd get any minutes throughout the season, so now to know I might get some minutes in the first game, it's really exciting to be honest," said Velasquez.
L.A. probably won't be putting its best foot forward either. Coach Bruce Arena will likely need to rest a few key starters after they played 90 minutes at Toronto on Wednesday in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal series. The second leg is this Wednesday in California.
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