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What we learned as Real Salt Lake eliminated two-time MLS defending champion LA Galaxy

Nov 8, 2013, 1:07 AM EDT

Chris Wingert, Jaime Penedo
  • A night where wind-swept restarts told the story

Sometimes it is just about adjusting to the night. We can talk about tactics and combinations and strategic matchups all we want, but sometimes it’s just about drawing up plays in the dirt, figuring things out on the fly, sorting out what may work on that given occasion.

To wit: So much of Thursday’s night at Rio Tinto Stadium was about wind-swept restarts, about exploiting a weird weather night.

The swirling wind inside Real Salt Lake’s high-altitude ground was turning every restart into an adventure. So many of LA’s corner kicks were dropping dangerously, and then Real Salt Lake gave their fans so very much to talk about with two dead eye deliveries.

Both came off the right foot of Javier Morales, the first leading to that curiously nullified goal. The second decided this series when Chris Schuler made a looping run to the far past and stuck out that long right leg.

(MORE: RSL Man of the Match, Javier Morales)

  • RSL’s diamond is the way to go. Clearly

RSL manager Jason Kreis issued his mea culpas and put his team back into a comfortable shape.

Kreis had dumped his team’s trademark diamond midfield for the first leg in Los Angeles, favoring a 4-2-3-1 instead. It didn’t work. He said so. And RSL was the better for it Thursday.

Kyle Beckerman was the best man on the field over the first 45 minutes. His influence waned slightly in the second half, but he and Morales were still the far better central midfield pairing. Even without the injured Ned Grabavoy, RSL’s entire midfield was head-and-shoulders better than Los Angeles’ foursome.

What Beckerman, Morales, Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez did particularly well out of their familiar shape was shut down the passing lanes into Robbie Keane. Landon Donovan found the ball in space here and there, as did Robbie Rogers on the flank. And the Galaxy did manage to look semi-dangerous on the counter … but clearly not quite enough.

  • Robbie Rogers was a bust

Robbie Rogers probably had one of his better matches in a Galaxy shirt – and yet we have to say it: the big June talker of a trade, in the end, was a bust for Los Angeles.

There’s still time for some of that “upside” that LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena has talked about. Indeed, Rogers could once again return to the speedy influence along the flanks that he was a few years ago in Columbus. But the chances of that guy returning seem to dim with every average performance. And if it does happen, it will be 2014, we know now.

Thursday, Rogers did give the Galaxy a little something, first from the right and then from the left after intermission. With RSL so dedicated to shutting off the passing lanes into Keane, Rogers did find some room to exploit on the wings.

(So did Gyasi Zardes on the opposite side, but the Galaxy rookie looked a little too much like an overwhelmed rookie in this one, rarely finding ways to influence.)

But his crosses were somewhat aimless or ill considered, so Rogers finishes his first season as a Galaxy man without ever really having made a mark.

  • Alvaro Saborio injury concern

RSL’s Costa Rican striker didn’t score in the series, but he certainly came close Thursday, and he always demands a bunch of attention.

Saborio put one sharp header off the cross bar, and not long after banged a fierce shot off the far post from 20 yards.

Not long after that, however, RSL’s leading scorer limped off, having apparently aggravated a problematic hip flexor. It left his team a man short over the final 10 minutes, which the Utah side obviously survived. But it could mean Saborio missing this weekend’s opening leg of the conference final against Portland. And that will hurt.

Defensive mistake make the difference – even the little ones

There were no huge blunders like we saw Wednesday in New York, but defensive mistakes were telling Thursday. Even a smaller one, the kind we saw on Real Salt Lake’s first goal.

Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant was close to RSL midfielder Sebastian Velasquez at the far post as a ball swung out left. But the slippery little midfielder looped inside, closer to Galaxy center back Kofi Opare, who was already marking an RSL forward. When Dunivant and Opare didn’t clearly communicate a switch (or when Dunivant didn’t track Velasquez going into the middle), the RSL man was free to head home 10 minute before intermission.

  • RSL center backs stand tall once again

LA Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez gets the ink, but RSL center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler are as big a reason as any that the Utah club is going through while Los Angeles regroups for 2014.

When the Galaxy did find its way through RSL’s well-organized midfield, the defensive commitment in snuffing out shots was ferocious, and so much of that was Borchers and Schuler.

Borchers won a game-high 85.7 percent of his duals, according to Opta, and his smart positioning kept the faster Landon Donovan and Keane from every getting in behind the back line.

And Schuler got the series-winning goal at the other end, committing himself to a far-post run rewarded in a massive way for finishing the run.

  1. drewvt6 - Nov 8, 2013 at 2:00 AM

    At least the Galaxy got all the national attention they were going for in trading Mr November for Mr GQ Headliner…oh wait, they hardly got a blip for signing Rogers? So you’re saying they didn’t even get front page news and they lost a key part of their two straight championship teams? Fan-freakin-tastic. This is all on Arena/Klein.

    • geojock - Nov 8, 2013 at 9:17 AM

      Yeah, Rodgers seemed very average. Remember when Magee put the Galaxy on his back?

    • greenhagen - Nov 8, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      I really, really wanted to see something special in Rogers but it just never happened. This trade was a huge mistake. I’d argue it’s even bigger than the Cudichini disaster. Without one of those, the galaxy would have had a pretty good shot at the SS. But once you get to the playoffs you can’t replace Mr. November with an average to below average midfielder.

  2. drewvt6 - Nov 8, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    My issue isn’t even that Rogers doesn’t have the ability to get by defenders on the wings, or that he’s out of synch with the movements of the rest of the front line, or that he lacks any creativity in delivering balls to the forwards it’s more that it appears he doesn’t even care.

    I get entirely frustrated watching Zardes waste opportunity after opportunity with poor technique on his crosses, shots and poor timing/decision making on his interior passing and runs, but at least he busts his butt for 90 minutes. Rogers appears to be slightly irritated to have to be on the field.

  3. talgrath - Nov 8, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    RSL just straight-up looked like the better team for pretty much the entire match, mostly on the strength of their defense, I think. We hardly heard a peep from Keane or Donovan, and that really is saying something. Zardes, even though he shanked almost every shot he had, at least put something at the goal, he’s got a bright future I think.

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