GALAXY: Crowded schedule a plus?

CARSON -- Neither the Galaxy nor Real Salt Lake will be at peak freshness when Major League Soccer's Western Conference final kicks off Sunday evening at Home Depot Center, not after 10 months of battle, but the Utahns believe their absence from the ongoing CONCACAF Champions League might be an advantage.

The Galaxy has played 46 matches this year since the season officially kicked off in mid-March -- that's league and playoff games, Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and friendlies against Real Madrid and Manchester City. RSL has played 44, but it's schedule, bolstered by matches in the previous Champions League at the start of the season, was far simpler down the stretch.

That means something, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman says. This is the Galaxy's third playoff game in eight days and the Utahns' third in nine.

“Not having played [in this] Champions League,” Beckerman said, “in the back of our mind, we know we're a little fresher than the teams that had to play in the Champions League.”

Like L.A.

Except that might be an advantage for the Galaxy, which has played a ridiculous number of games since CCL play began in mid-August, at one point playing nine games in 30 days. L.A. is used to playing “three games in a week.”

“This is maybe the 10th time this year we've done this,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena noted after Thursday's victory over New York to win a first-round series. “We know how to recover from it. It's not easy, but we'll get our team recovered.”

The Galaxy has played 11 league games (plus four CCL matches and both exhibitions) on the back end of “three-in-a-weeks” -- in September and early October, they played seven such “third” games in a row.

L.A. was 8-0-1 in its first nine such MLS encounters, then dropped its last two -- at New York and Houston, matches more or less conceded.

The record in “third” CCL games was 2-2-0, and it was 0-1-1 in the exhibitions, meaningless though they were.

RSL's record in “third” games: 3-3-1 in MLS, 1-1-0 in U.S. Open Cup.