Real Salt Lake came into Saturday's game on a 5-1-1 tear in its last seven games in all competitions. L.A. has been on a slide, dropping five of its last seven in all competitions, including a harsh 5-nil drubbing by DC United last week. Despite the imbalance, nobody expected a Bruce Arena team to come into Rio Tinto with its tail between its legs, though.
L.A. came out Saturday with swagger, breaking down RSL's midfield and back line like no team has for many games. Thanks to some heroics by Nick Rimando and a terrific goal by Khari Stephensen, it looked, however, like RSL might go into the half up 1-0. But when Landon Donovan's on the field, you can never rule out L.A.
With seconds left in the half, Donovan connected off what appeared to be an inadvertent Nat Borchers hand ball to put L.A. back into the game. RSL came out for the second half and took command, keeping L.A. from getting a shot on goal the entire second half. Olmes Garcia proved to be the difference for RSL, coming on in the 61st minute for Robbie Findley and scoring two world-class goals in the final seven minutes of the game.
Nick Rimando: Bruce Arena's Galaxy figured out how to break down Jason Kreis' midfield like no team has done for many games, and it meant Rimando was given perhaps too many chances to prove his mettle. One of Rimando's biggest moments game in the 37th minute when Jose Villerreal sent a perfect free kick from 22 yards out into what appeared to be the undefended right upper 90, but Rimando shifted and skied to parry the seemingly sure goal away.
Landon Donovan's manufactured goal in the 46th minute was not Rimando's fault, coming off a Donovan shot that came as the result of an uncalled hand ball on Nat Borchers just outside the box. He had two more clearances that brought the crowd to its feet as he held L.A. out of the scoring while Olmes Garcia took over in the second half to give Rimando and RSL the win.
Tactics: Nat Borchers found himself on the right side much of the night, double-teaming Landon Donovan, who turned out to be a massive headache for the RSL defense.
Chris Wingert: Wingert was rock solid Saturday night, one of his finest games of the season. He drew Landon Donovan along side Nat Borchers and tilted with L.A. speedster Gyasi Zardes. It's tough to keep the likes of Landon Donovan from getting past you, and he did, a few times. But Wingert's recovery was tremendous Saturday and his bulldog approach and physicality played a big role in wearing Donovan down so that he was a near non-factor by the middle of the second half. Zardes was frustrated early on by Wingert's presence and never really got comfortable the rest of the game.
Nat Borchers: Borchers vs Donovan turned out to be one of the defining match ups of the night. Nat played the crafty la veteran beautifully, using terrific positioning and his bigger body to keep Donovan in front of him. Even in the 46th minute when Donovan received a fine cross into the box, Nat was on him like white on rice. As Donovan headed it down, the ball ricocheted off Nat's arm and fell perfectly for Donovan to one-touch it to a part of the goal Nick Rimando had no chance of reaching. The rookie referee didn't make the hand-ball call and Donovan's goal stood.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe: Kwame wasn't on his game in the first half. One example, his 29th minute poke on Jose Villarreal sent him to ground and left Villarreal all alone to send a blistering shot into the crossbar that quieted Rio Tinto Stadium. His second half was night-and-day better, particularly in the air. Nat Borchers may be one of the best defenders in MLS in the air and it was clear Saturday night that Kwame has been taking notes.
Tactics: Khari Stephenson starts in the midfield for RSL's third game in a row. Ned Grabavoy continues to charge the box.
Ned Grabavoy: Ned Grabavoy seems to have gotten the message from Jason Kreis about attacking from the midfield. The last seven games he has been a major difference-maker in both linking up with the RSL forwards and making his own appearances in the box. Ned didn't have a shot on goal Saturday, but he was a critical part of RSL's attack and one of the key reasons they were able to stay in la's half much of the game. If anything sour might be said about Ned's performance, it might be in the fact that his higher line in the first half gave la too much room to break through the RSL midfield.
Javier Morales: Javier struggled to make an impact defensively much of of the first half, which allowed la to break down RSL's midfield far too easily. By the second half, Javi was slightly better, but what he gave up on defense he made up for in spades on offense. His link-up passing with the forwards was as good as it's been all year, particularly in the second half. He earned two special assists on the night. One with a deftly floated cross into the box for Olmes Garcia to back-shrug into the goal and another perfectly weighted through ball to a streaking Olmes Garcia who worked some magic of his own to beat la's Brian Rowe for his second goal.
Kyle Beckerman: Captain Beckerman came on a little slower than one might have expected given his tremendous play last week in three full games, given the week of rest and light training. But Kyle shook off the dullness by the 15th minute, and after sizing up la's attack, he was the Honey Badger in the flesh. Defensively he was rock solid but he shone brightest on offense. His work in the 83rd minute kept RSL on the attack and earned him a second assist when he dropped the ball to Javier Morales who flew a perfectly weighted ball into Olmes Garcia for his first goal.
Khari Stephenson: Jason Kreis calls Stephenson one of the most dangerous outside shots in Major League Soccer. His rocket in the 23rd minute was only inches from proving why Kreis gave Khari the start. His 27th minute gimmick free kick found la Keeper Brian Rowe flatfooted. If only it had been two inches to the right, the woodwork wouldn't have been in the way. But they say if at first you don't succeed, try try again. And so Khari did in the 44th minute, off a break that he created with terrific control in the midfield, and a nice run and positioning atop the box where he received a deft pass from Robbie Findley and was able to send it low and hard into the lower right of the goal to put RSL up 1-0.
Sebastian Velasquez (Sub '70): Sebastian came on for Khari Stephenson in the 70th minute as an attacking midfield option. He sent a couple of very dangerous balls into the box, but it was his defense and energy that turned out to be the difference against a gassed la Galaxy team that struggled to keep the pace they set in the first half.
Tactics: Joao Plata and Robbie Findley started up top together for the second time in as many games.
Robbie Findley: Robbie came into Saturday's game off his finest performance since returning to RSL. He was very good once again with strong runs off the defensive line, two very good shots and an assist to Khari Stephenson's goal in the first half. He was subbed out for Olmes Garcia in the 61st minute as Kreis looked to add another dimension to the attack.
Joao Plata: Plata's speed, motor and skill proved to be a thorn in la's defensive side all night. And he went box to box all night long without losing a step. Young players who are small need to watch Plata against bigger players. He has found a way to use his diminutive size to his advantage. On headers, he's in the feet of the defender on the jump, throwing off their timing. He hides in crowds, and on defense, he never shies away from contact, using his low center of gravity to throw off his man in tight quarters. He's added a very exciting element to RSL's attack.
Olmes Garcia (Sub '61): Garcia's speed went on display moments after entering as he streaked down the right sideline, ball at feet, outpacing everyone including the rest of his team so that he had to stop up and wait for help. He pestered la's exhausted defensive line from the moment he came on and finally in the 83rd minute, Kyle Beckerman's beautiful hard work kept RSL on the attack, dropping the ball to Javier Morales who sent a beautiful floater into the six-yard box where Olmes used his athleticism to fight off his defender and shrug the ball into the net with his back. Garcia found the back of the net again in the 90th minute off a beautifully weighted Javier Morales through-ball that he slid under la keeper Brian Rowe who came out on the streaking Garcia. Man of the Match.
Devon Sandoval (Sub '78): Jason Kreis subbed out his speedster Plata for Sandoval hoping to give RSL a target to play out to Garcia from the middle. He went to work immediately, using his size and strength to fight off the likes of A.J. DelaGarza and Tommy Meyer. His hold up play in the 89th minute created the momentum that turned into Garcia's final goal.