Fair to say that Real Salt Lake’s 3-1 win at Los Angeles, almost everybody’s choice to claim MLS Cup this year, is going to be the opening weekend surprise, no matter what happens with two more matches today.
Everybody knew the Galaxy defense had been weakened with Omar Gonzalez’s injury. So here’s the real surprise from Saturday’s result: it wasn’t rookie center back Tommy Meyer, who replaced the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year, making important boo-boos; it was the veterans.
By the way, Real Salt Lake didn’t even start its top two attackers, playmaker Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio. Still bothered by injury but able to play limited roles, both did come with for the final 23 minutes.
As for the defensive bugaboos: You’ll see some pretty poor technique here from right back Sean Franklin, who tries to reach his right foot across his body on as Sebastian Velasquez delivers the cross that led to RSL’s first goal. Things actually look under control in the back for L.A. as Todd Dunivant contains Valasquez along the Galaxy’s left side. Even though Valasquez is able to hit a speculative cross, the marking looks OK, and Franklin’s body shape isn’t bad, angled more or less away from goal. But he gets himself in trouble by attempting to clear the ball with his right foot, rather than his left. You see the result.
Mr. David Beckham himself is culpable on the second goal. Landon Donovan appears to get fouled as the Galaxy attack. And when referee Kevin Stott waves “play on,” Beckham ain’t happy about it. Which is fair enough. But he’s a pro. He’s a veteran. He should know better than to waste time arguing and getting distracted as the ball comes back toward Galaxy end. So he’s all crossed up with Franklin along the Galaxy’s defensive right side, unable to sort out their marking and tracking assignments. As such, Ned Grabavoy gets completely free to deliver an uncontested cross from the wing, and that’s the game-winner.
Of course, the Galaxy could still salvage a tie, and were pressing Real Salt Lake for it. But it was A.J. DeLaGarza, Gonzalez’s steady central partner last year, who lost out on a challenge to Fabian Espindola as RSL counter-attacked. Espindola then sealed the deal.