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The Champs! Salt Lake's for Real
by Ridge Mahoney, November 23rd, 2009 7AM
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[MLS CUP 2009] After praising Landon Donovan for his abilities and accomplishments, Real Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando had to set the record straight. "I'm two-for-two against him, right?" said Rimando, who on his resume now has a penalty-kick save against Donovan (in 2007) and a shot blazed over the crossbar Sunday night at Qwest Field. Donovan's miss didn't doom Los Angeles to defeat in the penalty-kick shootout, but it did epitomize why the Galaxy lost, 5-4, after a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime.

MLS Cup '09 Highlights:

Donovan and David Beckham and most of their teammates just weren't good enough for most of the match, and after taking a 1-0 lead when Mike Magee tucked home a Donovan cross at the far post in the 41st minute, they inexorably succumbed to a team that actually grew stronger after losing its playmaking midfielder midway through the first half.

Clint Mathis replaced Javier Morales, the victim of a Beckham foul, and at halftime Coach Jason Kreis brought in Ned Grabavoy for Will Johnson, who had fallen ill with food poisoning the night before the match. The change in personnel, coupled with Kreis's insistence on greater urgency, switched the momentum.

In the 64th minute, Robbie Findley smashed the rebound of a blocked shot past keeper Donovan Ricketts, who soon afterwards would be substituted with a hand contusion suffered in a goalmouth collision. Replacement Josh Saunders and Rimando were called upon a few times during the second half and overtime, though RSL's superior fitness and pressure pushed the Galaxy back into its own half much of the time.

In addition to Ricketts, Los Angeles lost Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez to cramps in the final minutes of regulation. In came another precocious rookie, A.J. DeLaGarza, who took up at right back, which slid Sean Franklin into the central role he played most of last season, when he was Rookie of the Year. Unlike the RSL changes, the Galaxy's alterations exacerbated its problems, and it struggled mightily in overtime.

The Galaxy's stars and talented young players were overwhelmed by RSL, which abounds with players acquired from other MLS teams. On the field were three former Rapids (including captain Kyle Beckerman), two ex-Galaxy players, and other veterans such as Rimando, who saved penalties from Jovan Kirovski and Edson Buddle a week after repelling three spot kicks in the conference final against Chicago.

Saunders had saved from Beckerman on RSL's third kick, but then RSL hit four straight, with Robbie Russell - who had grown immensely in courage and confidence after losing the mark on Magee when the Galaxy scored - drilling home the final attempt after Rimando's save on Buddle. Donovan's miss, with the teams tied, 2-2, enabled Grabavoy to nail his penalty to give RSL a 3-2 lead.

"I wanted to stay in the middle as long as I could, because I knew he was going to look up, because he likes to go down the middle high," said Rimando of Donovan, who had converted 11 consecutive penalties in MLS play. "I'm fortunate that he went over, because he usually buries those."

Buddle, who found some success dropping back to find possession some distance from goal but seldom latched onto balls in the goalmouth, went to Rimando's left but his weak shot came back off Rimando. Russell's conversion gave RSL its first title in its fifth year of existence, and in the third season of Kreis, who finished his playing career in Utah after a long stint in Dallas, as head coach.

"I'm extremely, extremely pleased for the players, first and foremost," said Kreis of RSL, which snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the season as the eighth seed with a 11-12-7 record. "They've put in so much work over [the] two years most of them have been together now. We started off with a dream, an idea, about what this team could look like and would look like over time.

"What we saw at certain points of this season, in certain games, we saw what we were capable of, and we saw when we played our best soccer, we were one of the best teams in the league. So now it's nice to say, 'We are the best team in the league.'"

Nov. 23 in Seattle

Los Angeles 1 Real Salt Lake 1.
Goals: Magee 41; Findley 64.
Beckham goal (1-0)
RSL-Mathis goal (1-1)
LA-Berhalter goal (2-1)
RSL-Findley goal (2-2)
LA-Kirovski saved (2-2)
RSL-Beckerman saved (2-2)
LA-Donovan over crosbar (2-2)
RSL-Espindola goal (3-2)
LA-Magee goal (3-3)
RSL-Williams saved (3-3)
LA-Klein goal (4-3)
RSL-Wingert goal (4-4)
LA-Buddle saved (4-4)
RSL-Russell goal (5-4)
Los Angeles -- Ricketts (Saunders, 66), Franklin, Berhalter, Gonzalez (Delagarza, 89), Dunivant, Kirovski, Beckham, Birchall (Klein, 79), Donovan, Buddle, Magee.
Real Salt Lake -- Rimando, Russell, Olave, Borchers, Wingert, Williams, Morales (Mathis, 22), Beckerman, Johnson (Grabavoy, 46), Findley, Movsisyan (Espindola, 75).
Referee: Kevin Stott.
Att.: 46,011.



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