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Real Salt Lake-Los Angeles FC Preview

Those involved in Los Angeles FC's Knockout Round thriller last November say the crushing loss lingered well into the offseason.

The Black and Gold also confess that it was partially by design.

Admittedly motivated by last year's playoff heartbreaker, LAFC will try to remain unbeaten on the young season Saturday night when it gets a rematch with visiting Real Salt Lake.

After finishing in a tie for third in the Western Conference during its inaugural campaign, Los Angeles entered the postseason with high hopes. Christian Ramirez's goal gave the club a second-half lead on sixth-place RSL in the Knockout Round, but Damir Kreilach scored in the 58th minute and Walker Zimmerman was charged with an own goal 11 minutes later in a 3-2 home loss.

"Without a doubt the loss to Real Salt Lake became our motivation in the offseason," LAFC coach Bob Bradley said.

The Black and Gold have played like a team with a chip on its shoulder so far, beating Sporting Kansas City 2-1 and Portland 4-1 at home before playing New York City FC to a 2-all draw at Yankee Stadium.

Mexican midfielder Carlos Vela led the charge with a goal and two assists against the Timbers and two scores versus NYCFC. Vela's three goals are tied for the league lead early on and he's totaled a goal and three assists in three career meetings with RSL.

That's a trend LAFC hopes the captain continues as the club looks to avenge its playoff defeat and improve to 4-0-1 this season.

"That (postseason) loss definitely fueled us," defender Steven Beitashour said. "I think everyone was driven this offseason to get better and improve."

RSL (1-1-1) is certainly hoping to play better after last weekend's humbling 5-0 loss at D.C. United. The club finished with just nine men after Jefferson Savarino earned a red card and Silva picked up a pair of yellows. Both are suspended for this match.

Making matters worse, 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year Corey Baird (U.S.), Sam Johnson (Liberia), Albert Rusnak (Slovakia) and Julian Vazquez (Mexico U-18) will be away on international duty. Rusnak's absence figures to hurt as the star midfielder has team highs with 20 goals and 20 assists since joining RSL prior to the 2017 season and he's scored the club's only two tallies so far this year.

LAFC is also missing key players with Ramirez (U.S.) and midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye (Canada) serving international duty.

"I'm looking forward to playing LAFC," RSL coach Mike Petke said. "It's going to be a tough game. With the amount of players we have out with international duty we're going to have to be creative. We'll think of something and figure it out and get it done."

Updated March 22, 2019

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