By MARC SERBER
A thunderous Sean Franklin strike from 25 yards out in the 48th minute helped give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake on Sunday night in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series.
As the series shifts from the StubHub Center in Carson, California to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, the Galaxy will be frustrated with the result while RSL will have to consider the 1-0 scoreline an acceptable result.
The home side had the lion’s share of possession and created chances, but a rare night of profligacy in front of goal from Robbie Keane combined with some excellent play from RSL’s centerbacks meant LA needed Franklin’s moment of magic.
Despite being goalless, the first half went according to form.
The LA Galaxy looked to attack down the flanks (especially through Gyasi Zardes on the left), looking to either get to the byline or play the balls into Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane drifting inside the center and outside back.
When Real Salt Lake did have the ball it was the interchanging of the Claret and Cobalts narrow midfield trying to reek havoc in front of LA’s center backs. If the space didn’t open up in the center of the park, the next look was for Alvaro Saborio up top.
The chances started just four minutes in as Saborio did well to engineer a bit of space up top, and fired, but Galaxy’s Panamanian keeper, Jaime Penedo got down well.
At the other end, Donovan and Keane combined well but the Irish international scuffed his effort.
Zardes then raced down the flank and played a diagonal ball in behind RSL centerback Nat Borchers for Donovan to race onto. Donovan took himself a bit too wide running onto it and flashed his shot beyond the far post.
Donovan almost turned provider in the 19th minute taking advantage of a poor clearance from the RSL back-line to put Keane in alone on goal. Ireland’s all time leading scorer uncharacteristically shot right at Nick Rimando.
Another poor clearance following a Galaxy corner fell right to Franklin who blazed his effort just over, but it was a sign of things to come.
Keane and Donovan had one last chance as the half drew to a close, but center-back Chris Schuler made a tremendous last ditch tackle to clear Keane’s cross before Donovan could tap home at the back post.
The Galaxy looked the stronger side going into the break but the counter-attack also looked on for the visitors.
Just three minutes after the break, the Galaxy were rewarded for their attacking enterprise. Despite all the good work coming from the three headed monster of Keane, Donovan and Zardes, the goal came from an unlikely source. It was Franklin who perfectly stepped into a poor clearance and returned it with considerable interest.
The play started with Kyle Beckerman needlessly giving the ball away to Zardes deep in his own territory.
Donovan almost tucked the ball home just two minutes later but some more last ditch defending once again denied LA’s number 10.
From there on though it seemed as if the Galaxy began to sit back a bit as RSL pushed for an equalizer. This opened up space for the counter but LA were content to keep its midfield sitting deep and compact rather than cheating up for a potential break.
The visitors took advantage of their invitation to come forward. On one of the rare occasions that RSL spread the ball out wide, Tony Beltran put in a good cross, but Sebastian Velasquez’s effort was blocked in the 67th minute.
Beckerman looked to make amends for his mistake in the 73rd as he tested the wits of Penedo, but the Panamanian tipped the captain’s effort around the post at full stretch.
Ten minutes from time and Chris Wingert sent a delightful ball to Luis Gil. The 19-year-old flicked his effort beyond Penedo, but Todd Dunivant and RSL sub Devon Sandoval collided as they went for the loose ball and any shouts for a penalty fell on deaf ears.
Keane had the perfect opportunity to give the Galaxy a 2-0 lead five minutes from time. Juninho played him through with a perfectly weighted header, but the Galaxy’s leading scorer dragged his shot well wide of Rimando’s goal.
Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis said before the game a 1-0 loss might be an acceptable result. Based on the run of play, Kreis will be happy as his side will put out a much more attack-minded lineup on the field for the 2nd leg.
Here are the game highlights: