Real Salt Lake lost the first leg of the Western Conference semi-final 1-0 Sunday at the Sub Hub Center.
The result means Salt Lake will need to win by one goal to force extra time or by more than one goal to win the series outright during Thursday’s second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Conventional wisdom says this is a good result for Real Salt Lake, as the side will presumably have the advantage during the second leg of this series. However, Jason Kreis’ men will need to score against an opponent whose sole goal is to bunker and defend if they want to advance. That situation is one in which Salt Lake has traditionally struggled.
Still, Salt Lake will be grateful to have escaped the Stub Hub Center with a chance in the series as the LA Galaxy had numerous chances to score on them.
Real Salt Lake came out in a surprising new formation for this match, going to a 4-2-3-1, and changing out a striker for an extra holding midfielder in Yordany Alvarez. Alvarez stayed back alongside Kyle Beckerman to help control the powerful counter-attack of the Galaxy.
Still, Los Angeles was able to create chances. A 5th minute throw-in turned into a quick back and forth between Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, and found the latter behind the Salt Lake back line for a shot. The Irish international mishit the ball and it fell safely wide.
In the 12th minute, Gyasi Zardes found Donovan on a run past Nat Borchers, freeing up the MLS legend for a one-on-one with Nick Rimando. Donovan stayed wide left and shot across Rimando, missing the goal.
The attacks kept coming. Keane got a counter-attack in the 19th minute when a poor header from Chris Schuler sprung the Irishman free on a run into the box. Rimando saved his shot to keep the match scoreless.
Salt Lake had opportunities as well. Ned Grabavoy found Gil on a run into the box, freeing up the Generation Adidas prodigy to shoot in the 26th minute. His shot flew wide, but the play served as notice that Salt Lake would not simply defend in the first leg.
Donovan had the last great opportunity of the first half in the 42nd minute when a cross from Keane found him in front of the goal; however, Schuler made a lunge at the ball and sent it over the line to safety.
That ended the first half scoreless, though the draw would not hold.
The Galaxy came out attacking to start the second half and scored in the 48th minute when Keane found Sean Franklin at the top of the Salt Lake box. The Galaxy defender powered the ball just inside the post and beat Rimando to break the tie.
Salt Lake went back to the traditional diamond formation in the 58th minute by pulling out Alvarez and inserting Robbie Findley. That led to more attacking from Salt Lake.
In the 65th minute Alvaro Saborio took a flick from Luis Gil at the top of the box and volleyed it hard, but he missed the frame by a few feet.
Beckerman fired another from distance in the 73rd minute. The Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo was able to make a diving save to force a corner kick.
Salt Lake nearly scored in the 80th minute when Gil got to the side of the Galaxy goal and sent a cross that Devon Sandoval dove for but missed. Sandoval missed because of a collision with Omar Gonzalez that the referee deemed incidental.
The match ended with the Galaxy holding a tenuous 1-0 lead and even odds heading into Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday.
Category: Game Review