KICK AROUND: MLS Cup Preview – LA Galaxy vs Real Salt Lake

Sunday’s MLS Cup features the league’s most popular player, David Beckham, and the player tabbed as this season’s most valuable player, Landon Donovan. Both will be on the pitch in Seattle for the Western Conference Champion LA Galaxy in the title match against Real Salt Lake.

The star power in LA’s galaxy along with posting one of the best regular season’s in the league has many tipping the match to the Galaxy.

Real Salt Lake has come on strong, however. Facing elimination in the final match of the season, RSL defeated Colorado before sweeping Columbus and beating Chicago on kicks in the playoffs.

In the week’s “Kick Around,” the Daily Football Blog writers make their pick for MLS Cup.

Peter Howard:
What a long strange trip it’s been for the Galaxy in the past 18 months. One year ago, LA was the worst team in the Conference, and early this season, every step was met with distraction as Beckham and Donovan were engaged in a rather nasty feud.

Then Beckham extended his European stay, and was heckled and taunted by his own Galaxy fans upon returning to LA.

However, LA is 9-3-4 in MLS action since Beckham returned, and MLS MVP Donovan has worked well with Beckham on the field to provide a solid scoring punch for the Galaxy.

Robbie Findley (12 goals) and Yura Movisisyan (8) lead the scoring punch for RSL. Perhaps more importantly for Salt Lake is the man in net. Nick Rimando posted nine shutouts this season, and owns a 1.14 GAA. Two of those shutouts came this postseason, and his work during the penalty kicks in the Eastern Conference Championship got RSL into MLS Cup.

Led by Beckham and Donovan, the Galaxy has a tremendous amount of big game experience. That intangible tips the match in LA’s favor. Look for the Galaxy to put pressure on RSL early and often, and for LA to come away with the championship for MLS Coach of the Year Bruce Arena.

Greg Neville:
Columbus is the real champion, but while they are planning their Christmas vacations Salt Lake and LA get to play for the MLS Cup. RSL barely scraped into the playoffs in last spot with only a superior goal differential getting them over the line in front of Colorado and DC United. A RSL win would be a true Cinderella story … if you believe in fairytales. The Galaxy boast the two marquee players of the league – there’s nothing like a few wins to patch up a falling out and bring on side some fickle fans. It is a one-off shot at the title, so anything could and probably will happen in what will be a tense battle. But at the end of the day, the experience of Donovan and Beckham sends the trophy to LA.

Alex Michaels:
It may well be the Cinderella story if Real Salt Lake were to go on and win the title, but Becks seems to be writing these kind of endings everywhere he goes.

Since being vilified after his sending off for England in France ’98, Becks turned from most-hated man to most popular after leading them to the World Cup finals almost single-handedly four years later and scoring a winner against Argentina as if to emphasize the point.

He turned similar adversity into personal and professional glory at Real Madrid under Fabio Capello when he first signed for the Galaxy, and he seems destined to do it again in the MLS.

RSL may well be difficult to break down, but stopping the Galaxy will be an altogether different proposition.

Ron Patel:
Cup competitions are exciting, but at times aren’t a true reflection of how a campaign has gone. Real Salt Lake is a fine example. Drifting in the regular season, RSL upset Columbus and Chicago in the lottery of the playoffs to land in the big one. The Claret-and-Cobalt have kept clean sheets in two of three playoff encounters and possess pace up front, which might trouble the Galaxy’s relatively immobile central defenders.

David Beckham wants to go out on a high – do you actually think he’ll be back next year? – and coupled with Landon Donovan (it seems they’ve kissed and made up) will look to hit Real Salt Lake on the break. Note that Beckham is nursing a foot injury. Once a Cinderella team gets going, they’re hard to stop, so look for Real Salt Lake to prevail on penalties.

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