Labels: 2011 , bruce arena , david beckham , fabian espindola , jamison olave , landon donovan , los angeles galaxy , major league soccer , mls , real salt lake , robbie keane , 0 comments
You know, I don't buy all these water cooler conversations that the match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake is the de facto MLS Cup match. That is a huge sign of disrespect to the Eastern Conference Champions, the Houston Dynamo, who shut out Sporting Kansas City 2-0 on Sunday night at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
On the other hand, perhaps the 2011 Major League Soccer Western Conference Final had all the intensity of an MLS Cup Final. Fueled by a desire for revenge regarding what took place two years ago in Seattle, goals from Landon Donovan in the 23rd minute, Mike Magee in the 58th minue and Robbie Keane in the 68th minute of play paced Bruce Arena's Galaxy to a 3-1 victory over Jason Kreis's Real Salt Lake before over 23,000 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
“This is a competition that’s four or five games,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena told MLSSoccer.com's Luis Bueno. “The regular season doesn’t mean anything and we want to be the best team in this four-or-five-game tournament. And we have that opportunity.”
In reality, the scoreline could have burst wide open, degenerating into a wild shootout. Real Salt Lake had a few attempts hit the woodwork, while Robbie Keane struggled to get his finishing touch going.
However, Keane finally got a huge monkey off his back in the 68th minute, finishing a 1 v 1 to slot the dagger past Nick Rimando.
Of course, with this being David Beckham's final year, the No. 23 of LA needed to shine, and in the 58th minute, his signature delivery found the head of red-hot Mike Magee to make it 2-1.
Los Angeles opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, with Donovan converted a penalty won by defender Omar Gonzalez, who won the balls in the air and had established a businesslike presence on the Galaxy's set pieces.
With Juninho back in the lineup after serving suspension, the Brazilian from Sao Paulo performed a disappearing act on Javier Morales. Juninho protected LA's back line and proved to the masses why he's like bacon. Bacon, as you already know, makes everything better.
For Keane, though, he was still rusty. Once again, the rusty finishing from Robbie earlier last week at home against the New York Red Bulls was rearing its ugly head, with volleys hitting the woodwork. Had Keane been on target, the match would not only be decisive, but it would have resulted in a hat trick.
If Keane is able to click on his finishing against the Dynamo, the outcome may not be in doubt on Nov. 20.
The backline for Los Angeles underwhelmed on Sunday, but that's where goalkeeper Josh Saunders comes into play. An adept stopper, his heroics in the second half will certainly make him the No. 1 keeper heading into next year, regardless of the outcome in the MLS Cup Final.
Defender Sean Franklin has to be a very lucky man. He was cautioned late in the contest for delaying a restart, but a harsh challenge on Will Johnson earlier could have resulted in a suspension heading into the final.
Todd Dunivant has to work on receiving the final ball when Los Angeles string up their sequences. Dunivant does not have the legs to catch up to the pace of some of LA's long through balls. In a final like the MLS Cup, this is going to be critical, even with Brad Davis out for this one.
The play of A.J. DeLaGarza was what you would expect out of him: no turnovers, picking up second balls, and cleaning up when Gonzalez can't. Look for DeLaGarza to deliver in the back line in two weeks; this defender is the unsung hero of this team.
The biggest liability to this team is Chad Barrett. Sure he was able to exploit the lack of defensive depth, but his finishing was abysmal enough to keep RSL in the match even when they were a goal down. Barrett cannot rely on Keane or Magee to finish the job for him. As a forward up top at this point in the season, getting your act together is of the utmost importance.
On the other side, Fabian Espindola could have kept Real Salt Lake in this game singlehandedly. A key miss in the second half, as well as one from Kyle Beckerman in first half stoppage time. epitomized the night for Real Salt Lake, who only had a 25th minute goal off a set piece from Alvaro Saborio to show for their efforts.
The player that really lost this for Real Salt Lake? Jamison Olave. You would believe that Olave would be up to the task of stopping the star power that was fueling the Galaxy, but it just wasn't happening.
“I think he battled through a lot,” Kreis told MLSSoccer.com's Randy Davis. “I think it says a lot about Jámison Olave that he’s going to play through a situation where they told me there’s no chance he’s going to play, and he might not be able to play in the final had we made it there.
“A week to have the turnaround that he did, and then the willingness to say ‘I’ll play’ – that says a lot about Jámison Olave. I thought he was very strong tonight, and he ran out of gas as we thought it would. He made it a lot further than I thought he would, though.”
“Olave did well considering he’s playing with an injury. We all know he wasn’t 100 percent, and for him to gut it out like that was pretty remarkable. He’s an outstanding defender,” Arena added. “Unfortunately when playing three games in a week and at the end of a long season, teams are going to have injuries. Players are not 100 percent and unfortunately that was the case for Olave.”
And because Olave was not up to the challenge, Los Angeles wore down RSL en route to a well-deserved dose of payback.
Speaking of payback, some redemption for the C-team may be in order in two weeks, when Houston and the Galaxy clash in MLS Cup 2011.
How about this for your storyline: two clubs owned/partially owned by AEG playing in stadium owned by AEG for a trophy with AEG's owner written on it.
No fix, argues this Featured Columnist. It's just football. Association football. And the 2011 association football season in the United States and Canada wraps up two Sundays from now.
Kickoff between the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET and will be televised by ESPN and ESPN Deportes.