[MLS PLAYOFFS: Los Angeles-Real Salt Lake] The Los Angeles Galaxy will play for the 2011 MLS Cup as host after beating Real Salt Lake, 3-1, Sunday at Home Depot Center in the Western Conference final. Goals by Landon Donovan, Mike Magee and Robbie Keane sent L.A. to the final.
CLASICO. This rivalry has produced memorable games, from a tense 2009 MLS Cup final to a 2011 regular-season match highlighted by a spat between David Beckham and RSL coach Jason Kreis, yet the Galaxy’s 3-1 triumph Sunday night at Home Depot Center instantly took its place among the league’s most exciting playoff matches.
Four goals were scored, three other shots hit the woodwork, and frantic sequences of end-to-end play thrilled the crowd as the teams combined for 33 shots. Yet keepers Nick Rimando (one save) and Josh Saunders (three) weren’t often called upon to stop shots, though both fought through traffic to stag and punch balls lobbed into the goalmouth, and pounced on loose balls during scrambles.
RSL midfielder Will Johnson blocked a goal-bound header from Chad Barrett with his face, and during a furious RSL assault in the final minutes Saunders pulled off two sparkling saves to preserve the 3-1 lead. At times, neither team seemed capable of holding the ball or connecting passes, and turnovers were plenty, yet by getting the ball forward quickly they also produced numerous assaults on the opposing goal.
DP POWER. RSL beat the Galaxy in the 2009 final on penalty kicks, 5-4, after a 1-1 tie in regulation without a Designated Player. At the time, Los Angeles had just one, Beckham. The following season, both Landon Donovan and RSL forward Alvaro Saborio signed DP deals. This season, the Galaxy signed a third DP, Juan Pablo Angel, then traded him to Chivas USA in midseason and signed Irish international Robbie Keane to replace him.
All four DPs involved in the game contributed to the scoring. Donovan converted a penalty kick in the 23rd minute awarded when Andy Williams fouled Omar Gonazalez, or so the referee believed. Less than two minutes later Saborio re-directed a Jamison Olave header from a Javier Morales corner kick to tie the score. In the 58th minute, Los Angeles regained the lead when Keane fed Beckham, whose cross was headed in by Mike Magee. Ten minutes later, Keane, who’d earlier drilled a shot off the post, ran onto a feed from Donovan and ducked inside Olave to fire home the clincher.
It was the Galaxy DPs who came through in the second half as Saborio’s influence, and that of non-DP playmaker Morales, waned. RSL revived itself in the final minutes, partially through the efforts of 75th-minute sub Luis Gil, but both he and Fabian Espindola were unable to score.
RINGING THE WOODWORK. Keane, Kyle Beckerman and Espindola all rattled the frame with well-hit shots, any of which would have significantly altered the game.
Keane hit the woodwork for the third time in the playoffs with the score tied, 1-1, in the 32nd minute, and in first-half stoppage time Beckerman’s blast from about 25 yards slammed off the base of the post. Had either gone in, that team would have been leading, 2-1, or the half could just as well have ended, 2-2.
The Galaxy didn’t learn its lesson after conceding Saborio’s equalizer right after Donovan had converted the penalty kick. Within a minute of Magee’s goal – the third time in the playoffs he’s scored from a Beckham serve – Espindola broke down the left and from a fairly sharp angle launched a rising left-footer that stranded Saunders but hit the crossbar. Instead of an equalizer, RSL still had a one-goal deficit and eventually, a frustrating yet noble defeat.
NO CALL FOR NAT. With both of his centerbacks slowed by quadriceps strains, Coach Kreis elected to use Olave in the middle with Chris Schuler and start the game with Nat Borchers on the bench. Thus, Chris Wingert -- drafted as a centerback when both Borchers and Olave weren’t available – returned to his regular spot at left back.
Though Olave appeared to be laboring early, he smoothed out his rough spots and for the most part handled duties well. He rose at the back post to knock Morales’ corner kick into the middle for Saborio to glance into the net, and defensively coped with most of what the Galaxy sent his way.’
He lost control of Keane on the Galaxy’s third goal; after chasing Keane down, Olave bit on a left-footed fake shot, which gave Keane time and space to cut the ball to his right foot and bury it low into the far corner. As a former Premier League star and Ireland’s all-time top scorer, Keane has victimized some of the world’s best defenders, so Olave is in good company.
Borchers began warming up early in the first half as Olave struggled, but once he eased into the game Kreis elected to stay with his starting XI. Conceding two goals in 10 minutes forced him into use Ned Grabavoy and Gil to energize the attack. Not until the 82nd minute did Tony Beltran replace Olave, and soon afterward RSL's season ended.