(by James Edwards desnews.com 11-6-11)
Beating Los Angeles at the Home Depot Center is tough enough at full strength. Beating the Galaxy when you're shorthanded and playing against an inspired David Beckham, who might be in his last hoorah in MLS, that's a completely different type of tough.
In the marquee Western Conference final that MLS fans have been hoping for all season, Real Salt Lake ran into a buzz saw as the top-seed Galaxy played wonderful soccer most of the match to advance to the MLS Cup with a 3-1 victory.
The Galaxy will face the Houston Dynamo in two weeks to try and claim its first championship since 2005.
With the game tied at the half, L.A. scored twice in a span of five minutes early in the second half to pull away for good.
For an RSL team that is now 1-2 in conference finals in the past four years, it couldn't help but feeling a bit unlucky after hitting the woodwork twice.
The big question entering the match was would either of RSL's ailing center backs start. Jamison Olave did, but Nat Borchers didn't and his veteran presence could've certainly helped throughout the match.
Los Angeles opened the scoring in the 22nd minute as Landon Donovan convincingly buried a penalty by Nick Rimando, who guessed the other direction.
Donovan's missed penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup final cost his team the title, but he his Saturday's early opportunity with conviction.
It took RSL just three short minutes to equalize. After Jamison Olave headed a Javier Morales corner kick on frame, Alvaro Saborio was in perfect position to redirect it past L.A. keeper Josh Saunders to level the score at 1-1.
RSL had two fantastic chances prior to that, with Robbie Russell knocking a point-blank shot into Saunders' chest, and then an unmarked Chris Schuler heading a clear-cut chance from eight yards out wide.
The back-and-forth affair continued throughout the rest of the first half, with the Galaxy enjoying the better of the play. Both teams were unlucky not to tack on a second goal before halftime as L.A.'s Robbie Keane banged a shot off the post in the 33rd minute, and then Beckerman doing the same in stoppage time.
Los Angeles was unlucky not to score again in the 51st minute when Will Johnson blocked a point-blank goal-bound shot by Chad Barrett with his face. The dramatics were eerily similar to Tony Beltran's headed clearance in Seattle in the conference semifinals.
The favored Galaxy eventually found the breakthrough they were looking for in the 58th minute when Mike Magee made a darting run into the box, slipping in behind Robbie Russell to head home a David Beckham curling cross. Magee was the hero of the conference semifinals against New York as he scored in both games.
RSL nearly equalized less than 60 seconds later but was unlucky again as Fabian Espindola's curling shot glanced harmlessly off the crossbar.
Five minutes after going ahead 2-1, Los Angeles doubled its lead in the 63rd minute Keane beat Olave one-on-one in the box and buried the shot past Rimando.
Welcome to the RSL Cup blog
I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.