MLS playoffs: RSL must flip script on L.A. in Leg 1
MLS playoffs • Team knows it's in for "big challenge" against two-time defending champions.
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Los Angeles • The storm is inevitable. The waves of attack after attack will be there for Real Salt Lake to bundle together and withstand.

But in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal between RSL and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday night at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., No. 2-seeded RSL will have to weather those storms and figure out a way to counter the best counter-attacking team in Major League Soccer.

Playing the No. 3 seed Galaxy in a two-leg series will certainly be a trial for RSL, a team that 1-2-0 against in regular-season, and containing superstars Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan is a task any backline dreads.

What's a team to do?

"The most important thing is: Don't give it away cheaply," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "When you do get some chances, you've got to bury them and make [L.A.] pay for the possession that you get and make them weather a storm."

In the week leading up to Sunday's first leg in Southern California, RSL coach Jason Kreis said the Galaxy have had the upper hand in the previous matchups between the two sides, adding that he sees his side as an underdog in this series.

"It's an opportunity for us to play an incredibly good team," Kreis said. "A team that, when we've played them this year, has proven to be better than us. Big challenge for us."

With the winner of the first-round series being determined by aggregate score after the second leg Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL must figure out a way to put pressure on the Galaxy.

"To state the obvious, they're the two-time defending champions and they're not going away until someone beats them," RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said. "The key against LA, you've got to get a lead."

L.A. coach Bruce Arena was extremely complimentary of the RSL diamond midfield of Javier Morales, Luis Gil, Ned Grabavoy and Beckerman this week, and RSL will need them to get involved and test the Galaxy defense.

Morales, who was forced to leave the MLS Cup final in 2009 against L.A. with an injury early on in the match, has five career goals and eight assists against L.A. in 14 career regular season games.

"I expected to play against them because I think they are the last champions, they have a good team, they like to play soccer, so I say it's going to be fun for everyone," Morales said. "It's good for our confidence."

The continuing rivalry between RSL and L.A. — formed four years ago when RSL topped the Galaxy in a penalty shootout for the MLS title — continues with their third postseason meeting in five seasons.

No question the Galaxy's style of play can give any team in the league fits, but in a two-leg series, RSL's focus remains with its own method of attack: Possession, possession, possession.

"We know we're a great team, we know they're the two-time MLS champs , but you can't give them too much respect if you want to go out there and hit them around a little bit and win the game," said RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

Round 1 commences Sunday, with an opportunity for RSL to get a leg up on its rival.

ckamrani@sltrib.com ­—

Real Salt Lake at L.A. Galaxy

O At StubHub Center (Carson, Calif.)

Kickoff • Sunday, 7 p.m.

TV • ESPN. Radio • 700 AM

About RSL • The No. 2 seed out of a packed Western Conference postseason picture, Real Salt Lake led the West in goals scored this season with 57, finishing the season one goal behind Supporters' Shield champions New York Red Bulls. … Forward Alvaro Saborio leads the team in goals scored with 12 in just 16 matches played this season. … Midfielder Javier Morales ranks fourth in the MLS in assists with 10. … RSL's history against L.A. features a 10-11-6 record in MLS regular-season and playoff action. … RSL has had played well in Carson, Calif., with a 5-8-2 record at L.A.

About L.A. • Paced by MVP candidate Robbie Keane (16 goals, 11 assists), the Galaxy are widely considered one of the most lethal offenses in MLS. .. The Galaxy went 2-1-0 against RSL this season, most recently in a 4-2 win at home, a match in which Keane scored a second-half hat trick. … L.A. has scored 53 goals, while allowing the exact same with 53 in its 34 regular-season matches. … The Galaxy defense is anchored by U.S. men's national team star Omar Gonzalez and midseason acquisition Jaime Penedo, a Panamanian goalkeeper who has shored up the position quite well for L.A. with some stellar play as of late.