RSL Battles to Sluggish 1-1 Draw with L.A. Galaxy

Game Summary

Meeting for the second time in a 15-day span, Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles Galaxy fought to a 1-1 draw Saturday, as RSL’s Alvaro Saborio and L.A.’s Robbie Keane each opened their accounts for the 2014 season.  The draw allowed RSL to improve its undefeated franchise record in season home openers to 4-0-6.  Each side appeared rusty, with critical mental letdowns by both teams.

The action looked promising early, when Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez’s misplay of a bouncing ball gifted Joao Plata an opportunity in alone on goalkeeper Brian Perk.  Perk, who took over for Jaime Penedo in Saturday’s match while the Panamanian was back in Los Angeles resolving visa issues, was unable to get a touch on Plata’s shot, but the attempt narrowly missed wide, and RSL came away empty-handed.

RSL did capitalize on a later Galaxy mistake in the 19th minute.  With a free kick in the Galaxy end, Javier Morales opted for a short restart to Plata, who turned and found a completely unmarked Saborio at the back post.  Plata’s pass was perfect, and L.A.’s defensive marking was so poor on the play that Saborio had time to fully settle the ball and pick his spot before placing the ball over the outstretched arms of a sliding Perk and into the back of the net.

Not to be outdone, L.A. equalized in the 34th minute when Galaxy midfielder Juninho caught RSL defender Chris Wingert slowly turning toward his own goal with the ball.  Juninho knocked the ball free and successfully tapped it forward to Robbie Keane, who carried the ball into the RSL penalty area, juked defender Chris Schuler, and placed a pinpoint strike past Nick Rimando at the near post.

The second half offered little more than a few anxious moments, as the two teams combined for a single shot on frame.  That shot, a quick strike from the right side of the penalty area by RSL’s Ned Grabavoy, was neatly parried aside by Perk, who did well to track the shot through his own defender’s legs.

Unfortunately for Real Salt Lake, Plata came up hobbling midway through the first half with a non-contact injury and was ultimately substituted off for Olmes Garcia in the 36th minute.  The initial diagnosis is a moderate left hamstring strain, although Plata will undergo testing Monday to assess the extent of the injury.

Prior to the start of the match, fans in the south goal stands displayed a tifo of a Guy Fawkes mask with the words “Remember, Remember the 7th of November,” referencing Real Salt Lake’s comeback victory over the Galaxy in last year’s MLS Playoffs.

RSL will be back at it this coming Saturday against the glitzy new Toronto FC.

Analysis

1. Sloppy Play

As noted, the play from both sides became sloppier as the match went on.  A number of factors likely played a role.

First, the pitch was not in great shape.  Winter was hard on the field at Rio Tinto Stadium, as plows had been driven on the surface during the winter to remove snow.  This is simply an unfortunate side effect of having such a short offseason; the grass has little time to recover.  Sporting KC is dealing with a similar problem on its home turf.

Second, neither side was entirely accustomed to playing at altitude.  Although RSL usually benefits from an altitude advantage, such was not the case Saturday, as the Claret-and-Cobalt had spent their preseason in Arizona and their first two weeks of MLS play in California.  Both sides looked tired midway through the second half.

Additionally, Los Angeles may have suffered a slight hangover from its midweek loss in Tijuana that saw the team bounced from CONCACAF Champions League contention.  Overall, there were many factors contributing to Saturday’s less-than-beautiful play.

2. Schuler’s Return

Chris Schuler made his season debut for Real Salt Lake in Saturday’s draw.  His return was timely, as Aaron Maund, who had been filling in for Schuler alongside Nat Borchers, was out after sustaining an injury against San Jose.  And outside of L.A.’s lone goal—Keane put Schuler on skates—Schuler played an excellent game.  His play in the air broke up the Galaxy attack a number of times.  He also indirectly contributed to Saborio’s goal, drawing three defenders and leaving Sabo unmarked.

3. What Hack-a-Javi?

Javier Morales also made his return to the lineup after missing last week’s game in San Jose.  As one of MLS’s most fouled players per 90 minutes, Javi’s stat of the match is a puzzler: zero fouls suffered.  After watching a replay of the game, it couldn’t have been for lack of contact.  That said, referee Ismail Elfath was correct to give Javi a yellow card for leaving his feet entering into a two-footed, cleats-up tackle.  Javi did not contact Landon Donovan on the tackle (which might have drawn a red card), but it was a dangerous play.

4. Out of Focus

Each of the game’s goals (and its one near-miss) came from mental letdowns.  In the 2nd minute, Omar Gonzalez took his eye off a bouncing ball for only a moment.  The ball bounced through to an onrushing Plata, who is likely still thinking about how close he came to notching his 3rd goal of the season.  (As a side note, the miss was also the first shot this season Plata had failed to put on frame.)

The entire Galaxy defense suffered a letdown on Real Salt Lake’s 19th-minute goal.  I touched on this in a series of tweets yesterday:

As for L.A.’s goal, Wingert was a little lazy and loose with the ball, underestimating Juninho’s speed before turning his back on the midfielder.  Nick Rimando probably isn’t too happy with himself either; getting beaten near post is tough to swallow for any keeper.

Predictions

Being in Tampa last week, I wasn’t able to report back on my San Jose predictions, so this week you get an accountability twofer!

Real Salt Lake @ San Jose Earthquakes

1.            Wondo nets a goal.  The score sheet says I was right, even though replays showed Wondolowski was clearly offside.  The whole problem was communication: the assistant referee couldn’t see Bernardez’s flick that should have caused the offside, while the referee, who likely saw the flick header, didn’t follow up with his AR.  The Professional Referee Organization highlighted this goal in its Play of the Week with the following commentary:

“ARs should always be considering the potential of another player touching the ball when it is delivered into the penalty area and be aware of players in offside positions at that exact moment, having that picture in their mind. This is where the communication system should be utilized to good effect. If you are an AR officiating without the comms system then call the referee over and ask the referee the question, ‘has the forward played the ball?’  Knowing that if the referee confirms contact with the player’s head, then Wondolowski has to be offside. The referee has a responsibility to be aware of events that take place inside the penalty area and know the potential of an offside offense at all times, being ready for the AR to ask the question. We call it a jigsaw situation, when the AR has certain information, and the referee has other information. Put both pieces of information together and we have the full picture. It’s not easy but at least by showing more awareness and engaging in dialogue the correct decision can be made.”

2.            Javier Morales will win the day.  Javi was out injured for this game, but Luis Gil filled in admirably in his place and contributed in the buildups to RSL scoring opportunities.  That said, RSL did not win, and Gil did not get on the score sheet, so I can’t really give myself credit here.

3.            Brian Dunseth will say “Et tu, Brute?” while calling the game.  Dunny let me down.  Kind of.  He did say “Let slip the dogs of war,” which is also a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  So I’m claiming half credit.

4.            Steven Lenhart will remind us all why we hate Steven Lenhart.  Lenhart was actually fairly quiet this game, aside from his usual theatrics.  He did make a meal of one foul, and in my heart, I do dislike him slightly more, so…half credit?  Nah.

Outcome: I said RSL would win 2-1.  No dice.

Game Total: 1.5/5

Real Salt Lake vs. L.A. Galaxy (tweeted before the game)

1.            Sabo opens his account in style with a brace.  I was close.  He opened his account, but no brace.  Half credit.

2.            Rimando with SOTW #3.  Not only is Nicky not in the running for Save of the Week this week, he did not officially register a save in the game.  Robbie Keane had L.A.’s only shot on frame, and that shot hit the back of the net.

3.            Dono/Keane on the score sheet.  Keane notched its first goal of the season.

Outcome: I said RSL would win 2-1.  Got the L.A. score right, but was ambitious on the RSL score.  Half credit again.

Game Total: 2/4

(image courtesy of sltrib.com)

Heath Waddingham

About Heath Waddingham

SLC-raised and BYU-educated. RSLTID.

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