There will not be a three-peat in MLS until 2015 at the earliest.
The LA Galaxy's two-plus-year reign atop the MLS mountain is over following a 2-0 loss (2-1 on aggregate in extra time) to Real Salt Lake, with Sebastian Velasquez and Chris Schuler delivering the goals that sealed the champions' fate.
After a controversial disallowed goal kept the Galaxy alive to push the series to extra time, it seemed as if the champs may just nick a goal and manage to advance as Rio Tinto playoff voodoo reared its head for RSL again. Nobody managed to step up for the Galaxy, though, and Javier Morales' free kick found Schuler to ensure that a new champion will be crowned in 2013.
Here are three thoughts from RSL's triumph:
LA's big guns failed and lacked their security blanket -- Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane form the most lethal attacking tandem in MLS, but the two were silenced over the course of the two legs. Keane had his chances in the first leg but was uncharacteristically held entirely silent in the second. Donovan was unable to conjure his big-game moxie. If that happened in the past (which it rarely did), the club had the likes of David Beckham and Mike Magee to lean on.
Without either player on the roster, LA's complementary parts could not pick up the slack, and that brings it all back to The Trade. Robbie Rogers' return to the playing field was the story of the season for obvious reasons, and perhaps there was more to the reasoning of the trade for Magee than has been publicly acknowledged, but the difference between what he brought to the table over the two legs and what Magee was able to do in the past was painfully clear.
Rogers missed wide of either post and hit a chance over the bar in the first half, and he was essentially a dead end for LA attacks with the ball at his feet racing down either flank. LA may have found goals without Magee in the regular season to quiet the scrutinizing of the deal to a degree, but the playoffs are a different animal. Magee was a playoff warrior and a huge part of the Galaxy's last two MLS Cup title runs with three goals (all either game- or series-winners) in the 2011 run and three more goals in 2012.
Magee's team is at home watching the playoffs on TV (if Magee didn't score a hat trick against Chicago while playing for LA on opening day maybe he'd be in the playoffs after all this year, but that's another story), and his presence and big-game killer instinct were sorely missed.
The RSL Rio Tinto hex nearly reared its head -- FC Dallas in the 2010 playoffs. Monterrey in the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final. Seattle in the 2012 playoffs. D.C. United in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup final. For a while, it certainly felt that LA in 2013 would be added to the list.
RSL had never won an MLS playoff second leg match at home prior to Thursday, and even though the club has one of the best home-field edges in the league, that just has not extended to meaningful matches. Between Chris Schuler hitting the crossbar and Alvaro Saborio hitting the post in a matter of minutes late in the second half and the phantom foul on Schuler whistled by Baldomero Toldeo that negated a would-be series-winning goal, RSL had just about everything go against its favor.
Even after taking the lead, Saborio had to exit the game with an injury after RSL had exhausted all of its substitutions, leaving the club a man down for the final 10+ minutes. It certainly did not come easy, but RSL leaped over a massive psychological hurdle Thursday.
A deserving game-winning combo -- Javier Morales thought he had given RSL the series win in regulation when his long-range free kick bounced past Jaime Penedo and into the Galaxy goal. Toldeo's whistle for Schuler's foul on Omar Gonzalez (or "foul" depending on your vantage point) made sure that was not the case.
It was only fitting that the two connected for the series winner. Morales delivered another perfectly placed free kick with the winds swirling about, and Schuler expertly completed a back-post run and finish to keep RSL's trophy dreams alive. Digging even deeper, Morales returning to his top form this season, and Schuler's overall play in the series -- with his important interventions while stepping into Jamison's Olave void across the RSL back line keying the triumph -- are two major reasons why RSL is going to play for the Western Conference championship.