The LA Galaxy are the two-time defending MLS Cup champions, but are they contenders to make it three straight this season for any other reason than their pedigree? It's fair to ask of a team that has been up and down, has not adequately replaced David Beckham and Mike Magee and have shown to have a more porous defense than they have at any point in the last five years.
Real Salt Lake also made several changes to their team from a year ago, but they did a better job replacing them and, most importantly, they kept Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio to give them one of the best spines in MLS.
Two years ago, LA and Salt Lake met in the Western Conference final, where the Galaxy prevailed over an ailing RSL team. This time, the teams are somewhat different. Will the result be?
1. Can the LA defense hold up? For years, the Galaxy defense has been impenetrable. Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant were the class of MLS defenses, but DeLaGarza has been hurt and may not play, Gonzalez is also hurt and struggled for stretches this season and Dunivant's age has shown. This isn't the LA defense of old, but they were still good at home, allowing just eight goals in 17 matches, and the Galaxy will need them to play like they did in recent years to slow down Alvaro Saborio.
2. Will Tony Beltran shine? No RSL defender has been as good as Beltran this season and, it can be argued, that no right back in MLS has been as good as him either. Dunivant can be beaten when RSL has the ball and LA likes to attack from the left, with Gyasi Zardes or Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane drifting wide, so Beltran will have to be at his best against the Galaxy.
3. Which Marcelo Sarvas will LA get? No player is as instrumental to LA's success as Sarvas. He's not their best player, Robbie Keane is, but the Galaxy knows they are going to get a great match from Keane. The same isn't true of Sarvas. When Sarvas is at his best, which he is two-thirds of the time, LA is potent, but when he's not they can be beaten in the midfield.
4. Can the Galaxy beat Nick Rimando? Once again, Rimando was the best keeper in MLS this season, but it may have been his best season yet. He won several matches for RSL that they had no business winning and no matter how well LA plays, they may not be able to get past Rimando. He can single-handedly win a match for Salt Lake.
5. Where will LA's wide play come from? The Galaxy has struggled to play out wide without Magee -- even if he came inside often -- and the threat of Beckham spraying the ball to the flanks. That hasn't been helped by Franklin having to stay home more often and Dunivant's struggles. Whether it's the fullbacks getting forward or Zardes out side, LA has to at least be a threat from the flanks.
Match date/time: Sunday, 9 p.m. ET
Venue: StubHub Center, Carson, CA
Streaming: MLS Live