For the first seventy minutes of yesterday’s First Kick match-up between the Galaxy and RSL, the predictions about the amazing 2012 Galaxy season looked like they were more than just hype. Only the crossbar and some timely RSL defending denied the Galaxy a multi-goal lead and the defense looked shaky but solid. When Edson Buddle converted a David Beckham pass into a goal in the 71st minute, fans could be forgiven for switching off the game and assuming it would spiral out of control from there.
But a funny thing happened at The Home Depot Center last night, and it was an intangible that we sometimes forget affects soccer games. The Galaxy had played in Toronto on Wednesday night and with an older team, the travel visibly began to affect the team in the second half. In addition, they needed a two goal comeback to get a draw from their CCL match. Those watching closely could see how the Galaxy defense began to sag in the middle of the field and, when losing a step on an RSL player, committed more fouls (fourteen for the game).
Two minutes after the Buddle goal, new RSL midfielder Sebastian Velazquez created some space down the right and put in a cross towards goal. Brian Dunseth on the MLS Live feed noted earlier that the pitch at Home Depot Center gets a little damp as the temperature drops, and Sean Franklin possibly fell victim to this. He threw his leg out to deflect the bouncing cross but ended up stabbing it into his own net. At that point the game changed as Real Salt Lake had the momentum and the home side looked deflated. Adding to this momentum was key substitutions by Jason Kreis who brought on banged up Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio midway through the second half, substitutions that gave RSL a more confident and attacking line-up. In the 80th minute, Morales scored his first goal since his injury last season when he poked a loose ball in the LA box into the net. Fabian Espindola, who had a big second half, put the exclamation point on the win with a nice drive down the left that saw him juke a few defenders before finishing with a goal.
Even though this was the first MLS game for both teams, the impact cannot be understated. For the visitors, scoring the first away win against the Galaxy since 2010, especially when down a goal, is a major momentum boost for this side. Nick Rimando had an excellent game and while LA put RSL under a lot of pressure throughout the game, the Reds held the high-flying Galaxy to only one goal. The negative this game revealed is the team’s depth. With Morales and Saborio sitting, players like Paulo Jr., Louis Gil, and Sebastian Velasquez got the start. Despite Velasquez setting up the first goal, these players were shaky in the midfield and Espindola lacked any consistent quality passes from the midfield. LA gave the visitors some good chances at counters, but they failed to take advantage of them for the first part of the game.
As for the Galaxy, this game was a bit of a wake-up. Coming back to force a draw with Toronto is a confidence booster; this result should show them that they can’t play the entire season by wasting chances. Looking up at Real Salt Lake should help show this team that they won’t cake walk to another title and this is a good lesson to see early. That said, they could have easily gone home last night with a multi-goal win. Their offensive pressure was as advertised and the big names (especially Donovan and Beckham) were dynamic. Fatigue was a factor but that will be a factor all season. How they handle that will be a key to how far they advance this season. But this result should in no way lesson the impression that they are the most dangerous team in MLS.
A few other observations for you from the game:
- The broadcast crew for RSL were pretty good, especially Brian Dunseth in the booth. That said, the unintentional comedy moment of the night was them hosting Don Garber in the booth. After introducing the Commish, there was about three minutes of play-by-play, with Garber finally interjecting that he felt like he was butting in.
- I watched this game on the new MLS Live on my computer but about 10 minutes in hooked it to my HD TV. The picture was incredible and when MLS Live says it has an HD feed, it isn’t lying. I haven’t tried the phone or iPad feed but look forward to it.
- I loved the LA Galaxy faux-Real Madrid shirts. They look great on TV with the sash.
- The return match on June 20 will be fun to watch. This game got chippy midway through and it is obvious the players on these two teams don’t care much for each other.