Robbie Keane of the Los Angeles Galaxy gets a shot past Jamison Olave of Real Salt Lake to score the Galaxy's third goal in the MLS Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center. The Galaxy won 3-1 to advance to the MLS Cup. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Salt Lake's visit to LA on Saturday will be the ultimate advertisement for MLS, but don't read too much into it. It's March.
There's nothing like an early-season marquee matchup between two title favorites to turn everyone into a psychic. Last year, Major League Soccer's wonderful scheduling computer that may or may not exist spit out one of those games on Week 3 of the regular season. Real Salt Lake, fresh off a CONCACAF Champions League triumph over the Columbus Crew and a road win in the league against the San Jose Earthquakes, welcomed defending Supporters' Shield winners LA Galaxy to Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL beat the living hell out of them.
A second minute goal by Andy Williams was followed up by Paulo Junior drawing a penalty kick from Josh Saunders in the 9th minute, which Javier Morales converted. Morales scored a goal from open play just before the halftime whistle. Paulo Junior would add a fourth goal in the second half. Juan Pablo Angel netted a garbage goal for LA, but it didn't make the result sting any less for the Galaxy. They were truly beat down by RSL.
At that moment, in March, Real Salt Lake were crowned Supporters' Shield champions by virtually everyone. Over their next two league games, they dominated New England Revolution with their second team and defeated local rivals and reigning MLS Cup champions Colorado Rapids. They followed that up with a 2-2 draw away to Monterrey in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.
As of April 26, the 2011 edition of Real Salt Lake was already being hailed as one of the greatest MLS teams ever, if not the best, by casual fans and long-time experts alike. If this sounds hyperbolic, do some digging through MLS blogs and mainstream websites. The events that followed may have clouded your memory. This team really was being called the best American club side ever by people who watched MLS in the 1990s. Honestly, they might have been at the time.
Then, the turnaround. RSL lost to Monterrey at home, and the Rayados lifted the CONCACAF Champions League trophy in Utah, in front of a stunned crowd. Just over a week later, Chivas USA's Marcos Mondaini broke the leg of Javier Morales with a horror tackle. In the months of May and June, they recorded two wins, five draws and two losses while the Galaxy -- the Galaxy team that they beat so thoroughly and so comfortably -- opened up a gap at the top of the table despite the lack of a playoff-quality starting striker on their roster.
The point of all this is that nothing is ever certain in March. The Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake are two of the best teams in MLS. They both have excellent rosters full of players who have played together at this level for a long time, and they have been complimented by players who have performed at a level equal to or higher than MLS. Barring a catastrophe, these two teams will make the playoffs comfortably. This is a reasonable prediction to make, right now, without seeing either team play an MLS match.
Whatever anyone tells you, Saturday's game between the Galaxy and RSL will not change any of that. It also will not establish either team as a Supporters' Shield favorite or put either out of the running.
These teams have traded blows over and over during the last three seasons, with Jason Kreis and Bruce Arena at the helm of the two clubs. Every single one of their games has been fantastic to watch. Both teams have a lot of individual quality and it's obvious when they play that they are two of the best coached teams in the league. That's what this game is worth watching for. That's why this game is worth discussing and writing about. These teams are a better advertisement for the league and the progression of soccer in the United States than any others, but a game in March isn't predictive of anything.
Watch this game for what will likely be some fantastic football. When dozens hail Los Angeles as the best American team ever or declare them as officially dead in the water without Omar Gonzalez, ignore it. Every team is always potentially one gutting loss or one injury away from falling apart, no matter how dominant they may appear.