It was one of the rare occasions went LA Galaxy’s superstars were kept off a postseason scoresheet, but that doesn’t mean the night was a successful one for Real Salt Lake. Despite containing Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, the West’s second seed lost Sunday night in Carson, a Sean Franklin goal just after halftime giving the two-time defending MLS champions a 1-0 win in the first of the teams’ two-legged conference semifinal.
The LA fullback found the right side of Nick Rimando’s goal in the 47th minute, a ball played from the byline rolling out of the RSL penalty area and beyond the arc . Franklin ran onto the ball and hit a one-timer from 24 yards out, the ball curling away from the RSL keeper as it spun into the nylon.
The result won’t necessarily be a disappointing one for the visitors, though. The teams meet again on Thursday in Sandy, Utah, for the second leg of their playoff series. Should LA defend their one-goal lead, they’ll move on to another Western Conference final. If RSL reverse their deficit, they’ll be the team who faces the winner of Portland versus Seattle.
Real Salt Lake began the night with a surprise, choosing a two defensive midfielder, one striker look we rarely see from Jason Kreis’s side. With normal starting forward Joao Plata unfit to play, Kreis elected to add Cuban destroy Yordany Alvarez to the base of midfield in lieu of veteran forward Robbie Findley.
The extent to which worked was unclear. Although RSL appeared to cut off LA’s ability to get at central defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler, the Galaxy had prolonged success building wider, leading to chances on balls played across the six-yard box. Were it not for some timely interventions from Schuler, RSL would have conceded in the first half.
But the visitors made it to halftime unscathed, even if the stalemate wouldn’t last long. Two minutes into the second half, Keane got behind the defense down LA’s left. Near the byline, the Ireland international played a ball toward the spot, though his pass rolled through the area and out.
With Real Salt Lake’s two defensive midfielders having collapsed into the penalty area, Franklin was given plenty of time to come from deep and challenge Rimando. Cutting across the ball with his right foot, Franklin bent his shot from the middle of goal into to the back corner of Rimando’s net, the U.S. international unable to prevent the night’s only goal.
After the score, Los Angeles controlled play, but with the introduction of Sebastian Velasquez in the 61st minute, Real Salt Lake started to pose a bigger threat going forward. Unfortunately for RSL, sacrificing Alvarez (as they did in the 57th) exposed their defenders to counter attacks, with LA spending the rest of the night threatening a second goal in transition.
But Borchers and Schuler were up to the challenge, each providing multiple crucial stops to keep their team within one. When they weren’t outright winning the ball, RSL’s duo was slowing down Keane and Donovan enough to give midfielder Kyle Beckerman and fullbacks Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran time to track back. Though LA were able to get in on Rimando toward the end of the match, the Borchers-Schuler pair looked like a duo who had been working on those scenarios ever since RSL finished their season 10 days ago.
In the 80th minute, Real Salt Lake had their best chance to equalize when Chris Wingert, at the left of the area, chipped a ball over LA’s packed in defense, finding Luis Gil at the far post. The young midfielder’s attempt to hit substitute Devon Sandoval inside the six went through the box, Todd Dunivant helping to preserve Jaime Penedo’s clean sheet.
This wasn’t a case of RSL holding out for a 1-0, accepting that result ahead of their home leg. Through LA may have been the better side for much of the second half, the last quarter hour saw the visitors press for an equalizer, nearly giving up a second goal in the 85th when Keane was put behind the defense but failed to convert a one-on-one. Though neither side would add to Franklin’s opener, the final minutes maintained the spirit of a surprisingly open first 90 minutes.
Thursday’s rematch at Rio Tinto will decide it. If Sunday was any indication, this one’s not going to finish 1-0.
Los Angeles: 47′ Sean Franklin
LOS ANGELES: Jaime Penedo; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Kofi Opare, Todd Dunivant; Robbie Rogers (61′ Hector Jimenez), Juninho (90′ A.J. DeLaGarza, Marcelo Sarvas (82′ Rafael Garcia), Gyasi Zardes; Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane
Unused subs: Brian Rowe, José Villarreal, Laurent Courtois, Leonardo
REAL SALT LAKE: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert; Yordany Alvarez (57′ Robbie Findley), Kyle Beckerman; Luis Gil, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy (61′ Sebastian Velasquez); Álvaro Saborio (79′ Devon Sandoval)
Unused subs: Carlos Salcedo, Cole Grossman, Jeff Attinella, Kenny Mansally