Real Salt Lake: Possession key for success over L.A. Galaxy

Published: Sunday, March 11 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

RSL's Fabian Espindola celebrates his late-game goal in Saturday's season-opening victory over the defending MLS champion L.A. Galaxy.

Victor Decolongon, Getty Images

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CARSON, Calif. — Kyle Beckerman threw down the gauntlet at the L.A. Galaxy late Saturday night.

"When have they been a better team?" said a perturbed Beckerman when asked if it was surprising how Real Salt Lake was able to dominate possession for large stretches of the season opener.

"They never possess the ball. They sit in. It's a matter of if we score or not. We're always going to have the possession. We're going to create chances, (but) sometimes we don't score. They have guys who can score, but they're not going to out-possess us," said Beckerman.

RSL's captain believes the mark of a great team is the ability to possess the ball, and his team does it better than anyone in MLS. The Galaxy, however, play a much more direct style. It's just as entertaining in its own right, and it's been even more successful the past two years as evidenced by the club's two Supporters' Shields and an MLS Cup.

The run to last year's MLS Cup included a 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final, a match in which L.A.'s trifecta of million-dollar men were at their best.

In last year's loss, RSL struggled to cope with that direct style. Beckerman said dealing with counter attacks and set pieces will always be the biggest hurdle when facing L.A.

"We know what we're getting. They play some really dangerous balls in the box, good free kicks. Landon's dangerous. Keane's dangerous. Beckham's dangerous. Buddle's dangerous. There you go, that's their team. It's on us, it's about what we do," said Beckerman.

Even though RSL enjoyed the edge in possession, through the first 70 minutes the Galaxy were more lethal in the final third. RSL's center back pairing of Chris Schuler and Jamison Olave along with keeper Nick Rimando dealt with dangerous balls in the box all night.

Outside of one miscue on a David Beckham cross into the box, the defense dealt with the pressure very well.

At the other end of the field Real Salt Lake lacked that same bite around the box, with quality build-ups usually fizzling out with a poor final pass.

"Early in the season that's the last thing that kind of comes is the offensive end. We had in the No. 10 spot an 18-year-old (Luis Gil), and another mid was a rookie (Sebastian Velasquez) in his first game," said Beckerman.

RSL's offensive punch improved dramatically when veterans Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio entered the match in the 67th minute. Suddenly possession around the box led to dangerous chances.

RSL coach Jason Kreis praised Velasquez for his contributions in the opener, but said that going forward the rookie needs to be more aggressive.

"I think he got himself in some places where he could've turned and ran at the back four. He's still maybe just knocking off to the guys around him, a little bit subservient to the older players still," said Kreis.

That aspect of his game should evolve with time, but it was clear throughout Velasquez's MLS debut that he fits right in with RSL's possession brand of soccer, a style Beckerman believes is superior to L.A.

The results have been pretty even though since 2009 with RSL holding a slight 4-3-1 edge.

"It's a battle between the two of us, and it will continue throughout the whole season," said Beckerman.

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