Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah – It took two goals from unlikely sources, but Real Salt Lake finally won a major match at home.
The LA Galaxy led the aggregate heading into this game 1-0 but it was RSL that got two critical goals from midfielder Sebastian Velasquez and defender Chris Schuler, the latter coming in extra time to seal the 2-0 victory and 2-1 aggregate victory for the home side.
Head Coach Jason Kreis did not mince words when he described the importance of the result.
“It’s huge,” Kreis said. “I think it should build an incredible amount of momentum for us, an incredible amount of confidence and positivity. To get that goal in the first half I think was giant for us. I think it took a big, big monkey off our backs.”
In the 35th minute, Chris Wingert was sprung down the right flank of LA’s defense and played a beautiful cross into the box where Velasquez was waiting. The diminutive Colombian surprisingly rose up and nodded the ball past Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and into the net to tie the series and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
“I really was surprised I was by myself,” Velasquez said. “When you see a kid with a rat tail that’s 5’5”, heading the ball into the back of the net is not the easiest thing. It was just a lucky thing and it’s a moment that I’m always going to cherish.”
RSL’s second goal came in 102nd minute of extra time and it was a stunner.
After an earlier free-kick goal from RSL’s Javier Morales was disallowed, he once again stood over the ball and sent a dangerous ball to the back post where Schuler was able to run onto it. The 6’4” defender laid out and got a boot to the cross from a tight angle and sent the ball into the back of the net taking the 2-1 series aggregate lead.
The match had its moments of controversy. The biggest among them was the curiously disallowed goal from RSL in the 84th minute. It looked as if Morales had scored a goal after his free kick soared over everyone and bounced into the back of the net. The crowd erupted in cheers, thinking that their team had taken the lead, but referee Baldomero Toledo waived off the goal for what was later described as a foul committed by Schuler on Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez.
The decision fortunately didn’t affect the outcome of the game with RSL picking up the victory, but credit largely goes to the RSL defense and Chris Schuler for stymying everything the Galaxy threw at them.
“[Schuler] was fantastic,” RSL defender Nat Borchers said. “Well-deserved man of the match. He covered really well and won everything in the air. His distribution was really solid. I’m really proud of him. I thought he did a great job.”
There were some tense moments in the final minutes of the match. RSL’s stalwart forward, Alvaro Saborio, went down with an injury and left the home side down a man to close out the match with about 10 minutes left.
10 minutes to advance to the Western Conference Final. 10 minutes to exorcise the big-game ghosts that have been haunting Rio Tinto since the Champion’s League final loss. The Galaxy threw everything they had at the depleted home side only to come up short as they did all game long and mercifully the final whistle blew and RSL had done it.
It took an entire team effort of defending to keep the defending MLS Cup Champions off the score sheet
“We really talked about it yesterday and today,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. “If we’re going to have a chance of winning this game, we gotta have 11 guys on there that’s gonna fight for the guy next to you. No matter what happens, he’s gonna run for the other and he’ll run for the next guy. That’s what happened tonight. When we do that, we can be successful.”
RSL will now host the Portland Timbers in the first leg of the conference final on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Portland hosts the second leg at 9 p.m. ET on Nov. 24 as they look to build on the momentum of this victory