Robbie Keane (left) was held in check, but the Galaxy still managed to prevail over RSL at home. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Three thoughts on the Los Angeles Galaxy's 1-0 opening victory over Real Salt Lake in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal matchup:
1) Real Salt Lake's conservative strategy got mixed results. Jason Kreis took a defensive approach to his starting lineup for the game, naming both Kyle Beckerman and Yordany Alvarez to spots in central midfield. Both players excel at breaking up opposition attacks and denying service through the middle of the field, and sure enough, with both sitting in front of central defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler, it was extremely hard for the Galaxy to get any good balls to Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane through the middle. Instead, they allowed Los Angeles to play the vast majority of the game on the wings, and just about every player on the RSL backline was forced into a sliding block of service from the flank.
The plan was likely designed for RSL to nick a goal against the run of play. What it didn't plan for was a shocking goal that would force a sudden change in strategy. Salt Lake struggled to build any kind of rhythm in attack after Sean Franklin's goal, even after Alvarez was removed in favor of Robbie Findley.
2) Sean Franklin may never score a better goal. Over his six MLS season, Franklin has matured into one of the league's finest outside backs, equally capable of defending with intelligence and providing pinpoint crosses from the wings. What he certainly isn't known for is goals, having scored just five over 176 combined MLS regular season and playoff games going into tonight. That might be part of the reason why he was left so alone at the top of the Galaxy penalty box. Then again, RSL probably didn't expect this:
3) Both teams missed big chances. The one thing you expect out of the Galaxy is expert finishing, with two of the league's most clinical forwards paired up top. However, Keane and Donovan looked mysteriously out of sorts in front of goal on Sunday night. Both players found themselves in good positions to score multiple times, but their shots were either blocked or flashed wide. Of the Galaxy's 12 shots, five were on target, five were blocked, one was saved, and one was the goal.
For RSL, their misses will hurt a little more thanks to the scoreline. Alvaro Saborio, Luis Gil and substitute Devon Sandoval all missed good chances, with Sandoval's coming in stoppage time right in front of the Galaxy six-yard box while under pressure from Omar Gonzalez. A 1-0 loss certainly isn't what RSL wanted coming in, but with a raucous home crowd awaiting them at Rio Tinto, they'll take comfort in the fact that one goal could turn this tie on its head.