Sandy • The Los Angeles Galaxy are unmistakably one of the glamour teams of Major League Soccer, armed with high-powered stars such as Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel.
Real Salt Lake is pretty much the exact opposite.
Yet for as much attention and praise that RSL has earned for succeeding with a balance and moderation that could scarcely suit its small-market hometown any better, the Galaxy have proved that their own dramatically different approach big names, big stars and big salaries in a city that demands it all works pretty well, too.
"Totally," goalkeeper Nick Rimando agreed.
Not all the big names will be on the field when the rivals meet for the first time this season at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, with RSL trying to extend its home unbeaten streak to 36 games in all competitions and gain an early edge in the race for the Supporters Shield regular-season title.
The Galaxy's Donovan is away on international duty, along with RSL's Alvaro Saborio, Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez. What's more, both Rimando and defender Jamison Olave are questionable for RSL because of injuries, as is goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts of the Galaxy.
Still, it's a clash of titans.
"Beating the Galaxy at home would be huge for us," RSL's Nat Borchers said. "It definitely would set the tone for the season. We are both two of the best teams in the league and I think it's going to be a great matchup."
That's fair to expect.
After RSL beat the Galaxy for the 2009 MLS Cup championship with its "team is the star" philosophy and passing-and-possessing style, the rivals became the highest-scoring teams in the league last season and fielded the two stingiest defenses.
No team has amassed more regular-season points in the standings than RSL and the Galaxy since the 2008 season, and the Galaxy won the MLS Western Conference the past two years, edging RSL by three points for the Supporters Shield last season. That proved that just because they employ some of the biggest names in the game at some of the biggest prices Donovan, Angel and Beckham make more than $14 million, combined the Galaxy are hardly a three-man show.
"It's kind of strange," RSL's Kyle Beckerman said, "because they have a ton of stars, but yet they play a really organized style. They try to defend well as a team, and then, on their counterattacks, that's when their stars are supposed to come out."
Meanwhile, RSL is unbeaten in 15 straight regular-season league games, just four short of the league record and tied with a Galaxy streak it ended last year at home, on a controversial goal by midfielder Javier Morales.
The Galaxy have not won in five straight trips in Utah, but will be playing for the first time with Beckham at Rio Tinto, the stadium for which the iconic England international participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking several years ago.
The team signed the dangerous but aging Angel in the offseason to replace departed striker Edson Buddle, suggesting to coach Jason Kreis of RSL that the Galaxy are thinking "'We're taking this one shot at it, this year. If we win it, great. If we don't, OK at some point we're going to have to rebuild things.' I think they're probably just closer to having to rebuild because of the age of their group than we are."
For now, though, the rivalry and the contrasting style lives.
"You have to give credit to their team," Rimando said. "Their back line has done great, with a goalkeeper that I think is one of the best in the league and a coach that puts players on the field to win."
Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake
P At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • None
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 106.1 FM
Records • RSL 1-0-0; Galaxy 1-0-1
Series history • Tied, 6-6-5
Last meeting • RSL, 1-0 (June 9, 2010)
About RSL • Riding a 35-game home unbeaten streak in all competitions, it has not lost in 25 straight Major League Soccer games at home. … Forward Paulo Junior figures to get his first start of the season, with Alvaro Saborio away on international duty. … It has allowed only one goal in four games this year, including the CONCACAF Champions League. … It has lost only once in the last nine meetings with the Galaxy.
About the Galaxy • Already playing their third league game, they opened with a 1-0 win at Seattle and a 1-1 home draw against New England. … Midfielder Juninho has both of their goals, and has scored in three straight regular-season games. … They have won 27 straight league games when leading at halftime. … Forward Juan Pablo Angel made his Galaxy debut in the draw against the Revs.