Coach Jason Kreis doesn't like to make things overly complicated.
So when he considers the path to the playoffs for his Real Salt Lake team during its final three weeks of its Major League Soccer regular season, he keeps coming back to one very simple question.
"How do we keep ourselves in front of the Galaxy, this week?" he said.
The answer could not be more clear.
Win or draw against the Galaxy in a potential playoff preview at the Home Depot Center on Saturday night in Carson, Calif., and RSL can hold onto second place in the MLS Western Conference, and maintain its grip on a playoff spot that would avoid the dreaded new wild-card game.
Lose, and the drop in the standings could have fatal consequences.
"I don't think we're putting a lot of pressure on 'we have to win,' or stuff like that," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "Let's just try and add some points."
The Galaxy and RSL could meet in the playoffs, if both can stay ahead of the Seattle Sounders, who are just one point behind the Galaxy and three behind RSL but with one more game remaining.
"Now, if we were going to win one of the two," Beckerman said, "I'll lose this one and win in the playoffs, for sure."
The Galaxy are the team that RSL defeated to win the 2009 MLS Cup championship, and their meetings this season have been almost equally memorable. RSL stole a rare 3-1 victory at the Home Depot Center in the season opener, before the Galaxy shocked RSL by recovering from a two-goal deficit to win 3-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium in June.
All-time, the series is dead even.
But the traditional contrast in styles remains.
While RSL heralds a balanced, "team-is-the-star" approach, the Galaxy are the quintessential Hollywood starlets, a glamorous team studded with international stars such as Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho and Robbie Keane.
Yet only one game that was drawn instead of won by the Galaxy separates the teams in the standings, and both are surging. The Galaxy are riding a seven-game unbeaten streak in league play, while RSL is 5-1-1 in its last seven in all competitions.
Just a week ago, it was ravaging last-place Chivas USA 4-0 at the Home Depot Center.
"We'll take the positives out of it which was scoring some goals and getting some finishes for our forwards," Beckerman said.
"But we just have to keep it even keel right now. It's easy to get a big head … but I think we have the right guys here to know better."
Kreis acknowledged he probably will put maximum emphasis into the Galaxy game, expecting that he will be missing several of his best players when RSL plays its next game in Seattle on Oct. 17.
Defender Jamison Olave will be back from a yellow-card suspension, too.
"More emphasis, less emphasis," Kreis said. "This time of year, all of the emphasis is on the very next game. It's just the way I've look ed at the last two games, and it's going to be exactly the same. Just everything has to be focused on putting out our best possible performance, our best possible effort and our best possible commitment."
Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy
P At the Home Depot Center (Carson, Calif.)
Kickoff • 7 p.m. MDT
TV • NBC Sports Network
Radio • 700 AM, 1600 AM, 102.3 FM
Records • RSL 16-11-4, Galaxy 15-11-5
Regular-season series • Tied, 8-8-5
Last meeting • Galaxy 3, RSL 2 (June 20)
About RSL • It's already clinched its league-leading fifth straight playoff appearance, and is 5-1-1 in its last seven in all competitions. … Forward Alvaro Saborio leads the team with 17 goals, having scored three last weekend in a 4-0 win at Chivas USA. … It's 14-1-0 when scoring first, and 2-10-1 when conceding first. … Midfielder Luis Gil is expected to start for Ned Grabavoy, who's out with a strained quadriceps, and defender Jamison Olave will be back from a yellow-card suspension.
About the Galaxy • Riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, they also are unbeaten in 10 straight games, in all competitions. … Forward Robbie Keane leads the team with 14 goals and eight assists, while forward Landon Donovan has nine goals and 14 assists. … They're 10-2-0 when leading at halftime, while RSL is 10-1-0 in that situation. … Defender A.J. DeLaGarza is out after suffering a sprained knee in a 1-1 draw at Colorado last weekend, with rookie Tommy Meyer expected to replace him.