Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs: Real Salt Lake visits LA Galaxy in knockout match

The winner of Wednesday night's clash at StubHub Center will determine which team advances to the Western Conference Semifinals.

Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs: Real Salt Lake visits LA Galaxy in knockout match
Audi 2016 MLS Playoffs: Real Salt Lake visits LA Galaxy in knockout match

Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy renew hostilities on Wednesday night as the two sides square off in a 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs knockout match.  The showdown represents the teams’ third playoff meeting in the last four years. Salt Lake eliminated the Galaxy in 2013 by a 2-1 aggregate score en route to a championship game appearance, while LA demolished the Utah-based side 5-0 on aggregate on their way to the club’s fifth MLS Cup title in 2014.

Matchup of struggling teams

Neither Salt Lake nor the Galaxy enters the playoffs in particularly good form. LA comes into Wednesday’s match having won only one of their last five and three of their last fourteen. The Galaxy notched a league-high 16 draws in 2016, with eight draws in their final 14 games.

But LA has the good fortune of playing at home against a Salt Lake side whose form over the last two months has been particularly poor. The Claret-and-Cobalt have managed only four wins since June and three points in the last seven matches of the season (0-4-3). Salt Lake secured its playoff spot on the last day of the season, qualifying in spite of a loss to the Seattle Sounders, thanks to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ thrashing of the Portland Timbers. But in spite of its recent struggles, Salt Lake hopes to recreate its magical 2009 run to the MLS Cup championship, in which the squad snuck into the final playoff spot before knocking off the Columbus Crew, the Chicago Fire, and the Galaxy.

Real Salt Lake would like to leave the StubHub Center with a win in regulation, but the team’s recent scoring drought suggests such a result may be unlikely. Salt Lake has not seen a goal from its striker corps since early September, with its only two goals in the last six games coming from defender Justen Glad and midfielder Luke Mulholland. Salt Lake’s expensive attacking trio of Yura Movsisyan, Juan Manuel Martinez, and Joao Plata will need to regain the early-season form that saw RSL near the top of the league table early in the season.

Real Salt Lake's Juan Manuel Martinez and Joao Plata celebrate an equalizer at the death against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium. | Photo: Trent Nelson (The Salt Lake Tribune)
Real Salt Lake's Juan Manuel Martinez and Joao Plata celebrate an equalizer at the death against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium | Source: Trent Nelson - The Salt Lake Tribune

Injuries and a short week

The Galaxy will be without the services of Gyasi Zardes (broken foot) and could miss Steven Gerrard (hamstring) and Robbie Keane (undisclosed injury) for Wednesday’s game. But LA does not lack recognizable faces and will field a strong eleven. Salt Lake, having rested some starters in its visit to Seattle Sounders on Sunday, are likely to send out a full first-choice lineup. Whether either team will be significantly affected by having a second game on a short week (both teams played on Sunday afternoon) is unclear, although Salt Lake may benefit somewhat from resting Movsisyan, Martinez, and playmaker Javier Morales in the team’s season finale.

Wednesday’s matchup kicks off at 10:30 pm Eastern. UniMás will carry the national broadcast.  If RSL wins, they will face FC Dallas in a two-leg conference semifinal.  If Los Angeles wins, they will face the Colorado Rapids.