CARSON, Calif. Landon Donovan's debut in a Los Angeles Galaxy uniform was a scintillating one.
Before a sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center, Donovan netted two first-half goals and then a dagger of an assist in the 72nd minute to lead L.A. to a 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake Saturday.
"That's just a different class," said RSL coach John Ellinger. "He's a big player. He was motivated. He's home. He's happy."
The Galaxy could've used production like that last week when they were humbled 3-0 at Columbus when Donovan sat out because of flu-like symptoms. His heroics made a Salt Lake defense that looked good in its scoreless opener look pretty sloppy at times.
RSL will now have to wait until next Saturday's home opener against Colorado for its first MLS victory.
"I want to get a win. I know the festivities are there (next week), but I'm not the only one, if you ask any of the players, they want to get a win," said Ellinger, whose team dropped to 0-1-1.
Donovan's first goal demonstrated exactly why he's one of the premiere players in the U.S., and exactly why the Galaxy were so lucky to nab him.
After a deflection from teammate Jovan Kirovski trickled back to Donovan near top of the penalty area, he faked a brilliant right-footed shot a deft move that had RSL defender Nelson Akwari stumbling to his right freeing himself up for a wide-open shot. Like he'd done so many times in his MLS career with San Jose, he calmly tucked a low shot past the diving D.J. Countess and just inside the post to put L.A. ahead in the ninth minute.
As if falling behind on the road wasn't bad enough, the sequence proved even more costly when Salt Lake starting midfielder Andy Williams had to leave the game with a left groin injury before the restart.
With substitute Leighton O'Brien settling into his suddenly key role, Salt Lake absorbed 20 more minutes of pressure before Jason Kreis tallied RSL's historic inaugural goal, his MLS-leading 92nd career goal.
In the 29th minute, Clint Mathis played an precision through ball to a sprinting Dipsy Selolwane who unleashed a wicked shot despite being sandwiched by two defenders. Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman made an excellent diving save with his outstretched hand, but the rebound dribbled to an unmarked Kreis who blasted it into the open net.
The momentum was short-lived.
A minute before halftime, the 5-foot-8 Donovan seemed to catch Salt Lake 6-foot-2 defender Matt Behncke by surprise near the far post as he out-leapt him and headed the ball past Countess.
"(Donovan's) second one, you can't give him that one, of course he's going to put it away," said Ellinger.
Both Los Angeles first-half goals came down the right flank, and in an effort to clean up the defense, Ellinger replaced Behncke with midfielder Luke Kreamalmeyer, and then dropped midfielder Marlon Rojas back to his natural defensive spot.
"Tactically, it was a (spot) we needed to improve on," said Ellinger. 'We felt we were getting beat with pace on the left side."
The change may have improved things, but not much.
In the 50th minute, Donovan nearly made Salt Lake pay for more sloppy defense as Peter Vagenas banged a Donovan cross off the crossbar.
After such a lucky break, Ellinger said he thought maybe momentum would swing Salt Lake's way. It didn't exactly work out that way.Following a 61st-minute save by Countess, and then a near own goal in the 62nd minute, Los Angeles finally buried its third goal in the 72nd minute after Donovan stole the ball from midfielder Brian Kamler, and immediately played an excellent through ball to Cobi Jones who slipped it past Countess.
ENDLINES: Chris Brown replaced Selolwane in the 76th minute . . . Los Angeles outshot Salt Lake 19-8, and 10-5 with shots on goal . . . Andy Williams status after the groin injury is unknown, but he said he heard a pop after aggravating the injury in the first minute . . . Countess made seven saves . . . Rusty Pierce, Akwari, O'Brien and Mathis all received yellow cards.
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