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Sandy • It's always special when Real Salt Lake tackles the star-studded L.A. Galaxy.

The fans feel that way anytime the two teams meet, whether the MLS Cup is at stake or it's merely a midseason clash, such as Wednesday's expected sellout at Rio Tinto Stadium.

So do the players. Despite RSL's lofty standing in the Western Conference and the Galaxy's struggles to regain their 2011 league championship form, the Landon Donovans and David Beckhams of the world are always dangerous.

The two teams have combined for an 8-8-6 head-to-head record.

"We're going to treat them the way they deserve to be treated, and that's as defending champion," RSL's Ned Grabavoy said. "I don't really care where they are on the table. They've obviously struggled a little bit in the beginning of the year, but they have a veteran group of guys.

"We're not taking anybody lightly, especially them. So we'll treat them as they need to be treated."

Although both teams were expected to battle for the conference championship, it has been Salt Lake (10-3-2) that has set the league on fire. Los Angeles (4-8-2), without injured defender Omar Gonzalez and suspended goalkeeper Josh Sanders, has struggled to recapture its form.

Gonzalez tore an ACL during a January training session at FC Nuremberg and is expected to miss much of 2012.

Meanwhile, Saunders celebrated his first league match since April after returning from MLS' substance abuse and behavior health program with a 1-0 shutout win against Portland.

RSL opened its season on the right note by beating Los Angeles in the Home Depot Center on a night the Galaxy celebrated their MLS Cup championship. Salt Lake scored three times in the final 20 minutes in a stunning 3-1 decision.

"They're actually just getting things together in terms of defensive game," Real defender Nat Borchers said. "Losing Omar Gonzales has hurt them.

"[But] they still play the same way. They like to sit in; they like to absorb pressure. They like to break on the counter. It contrasts our style a lot. We like to be aggressive; we like to push the tempo; we like to possess the ball."

Meanwhile, RSL returned from a long layoff with a dominant 3-0 victory Saturday at Chivas USA. Fabian Espindola scored twice.

The game came nearly three weeks after a shocking 3-1 loss to NASL's Minnesota Stars FC in the third round of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup — a performance RSL coach Jason Kreis called one of the worst in club history.

Kreis is also intrigued by the differences between RSL and Los Angeles. His interest, however, goes deeper than on-field tactics.

"What's very interesting to me is not necessarily the style of soccer that's being played but just the difference in philosophy and how the teams are built," Kreis said. "They spent a lot of money on three players and we have tried to spread our money a little bit more evenly. I think it's very interesting to have such a clash in philosophies, and I'd like that to be something that the league considers going forward; how they can structure rules and such to give teams a choice in how they want to build their team."

Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake

P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Wednesday, 7:05 p.m., TV • CW30

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