The final score — a 1-0 home win, somewhat common in two-legged affairs — tells you nothing about how the match unfolded. Los Angeles looked good for a goal in the first half but were pushed to halftime scoreless, their forays wide-to-in inside the penalty area continually (if often desperately) rebuked. Even after breaking through near the start of the second half, LA continued to threaten, seemingly ready to spend the match’s final 40 minutes probing for an all-important second goal.
But then RSL adjusted, almost as if the whole plan was to wait 60 minutes before trying to steal one late. The introductions of Sebastian Velasquez and Robbie Findley injected some fresh, quick feet, with Devon Sandoval coming on to try and push in a surprise equalizer.
With RSL opening up in pursuit of that goal, they looked destined to give up a second, but LA could never put the pieces together on one of their numerous counterattacks. The game may have ended 1-0, but that wasn’t the teams’ intention.
[MORE: Franklin blast all that separates LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake after leg one]
- LA can silence RSL’s biggest stars
Where was Álvaro Saborío. Isolated. Abandoned up top. He may have been good for 12 goals in 16 appearances, but come the 79th minute, he was good for a place on the bench, the Costa Rican international leaving before seriously testing Jaime Penedo.
RSL’s playmaker wasn’t anymore effective. Javi Morales gave the ball away four times, a game high. He was dispossessed another four times, also tied for the night’s high mark. His 77 passes were second to know Kyle Beckerman, but they lacked the influence of a normal Javier Morales performance.
Thursday in Utah, RSL will expect more from their two biggest threats. Whether that’s happens because better performances, a switch in formation, or a change in approach, Jason Kreis will likely need more from his danger-men.
- Real Salt Lake’s not married to their 4-4-2
Or, if they are married to their trademark formation, it’s an open relationship. A handful of times this season, RSL deployed a 4-3-3, using their new-found forward depth to shake things up midseason. Tonight — on the road, leg one, against the powerful defending champions — Kreis utilized another source of depth, putting Yordany Alvarez into deep midfield along side Kyle Beckerman.
The result was a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the choice was a reflection of the RSL boss’s growing confidence in the Cuban destroyer. Regardless, it’s unclear how effective it was. That LA’s counterattack was a non-factor until Alvarez gave way for Robbie Findley hints the switch helped contain the Galaxy’s biggest threat, but where were the midfielders on the goal? Collapsed into the area, not familiar with new setup’s roles, abandoning one of the more dangerous spots on the field.
You’d assume Kreis will be more aggressive at home. Joao Plata may also be healthy. There’ll be reasons to go back to the 4-3-1-2, but it was interesting to see RSL break out a double pivot. The two-man shield may have helped on Sunday.
- Omar Gonzalez demands a lot of attention
When was the last time you saw two players marking one target on set pieces? It happened on Sunday. Omar Gonzalez is such a threat, Kreis asked Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert to mark him.
It was amazing; the ultimate side of respect; a concession that whatever everybody else had been trying ignored the obvious solution: Gonzalez is just too good . Swallow your pride and put a second man on him.
That one of the markers with the 6’4″ Schuler speaks to the amount of respect Kreis has for Gonzalez’s threat. Most managers would just shrug and say something like ‘we just have to win that battle,’ not wanting to sacrifice a player who could be deployed elsewhere. Kreis did the smart thing. He did what it took to stop Omar Gonzalez.
- Galaxy counter attack may not be stoppable, but was containable
Kreis took a big risk sacrificing Alvarez near the hour mark, bringing on Robbie Findley, and pursuing an equalizer. Over the next half hour, LA seemed to have counter attack after counter attack – the type of breakouts we saw the Galaxy ride through the last two postseasons.
But credit, huge credit to not only the defenders but Kreis, who put faith in his back two rather than just accepting the one-goal deficit. Near full-time, Devon Sandoval nearly found an equalizer, Todd Dunivant coming up big to keep the big rookie for heading in a Luis Gil cross. Had that gone in, Kreis’ faith would have been rewarded.
Yes, they gave up some opportunities in transition, but to see the coordination between Borchers and Schuler, you can’t help but think that’d been a point of emphasis in training. Kreis may have bet on his defense holding up.
It’s too much to say RSL had the right approach to LA’s counter, because there were a number of times the Galaxy seemed one split second, go either way soccer moment from breaking through. But the scoreboard tells the story. RSL did contain LA’s counter attack, even if they didn’t exactly stop them.