CARSON, Calif. – Instead of gaining momentum down the stretch, Real Salt Lake saw the wheels come off in September and October.
All the negatives the team compiled during a seven-match winless streak over the last two months weighed on and ultimately crushed Real Salt Lake. The club fell 3-1 to the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center and saw its season come to a merciful end in a Western Conference Knockout Round match.
“We struggled to score goals and that’s the name of the game,” RSL defender Chris Wingert said. “It was just a bad time to start to struggle as a team, down the stretch. Obviously your confidence isn’t going to be super high going into games when you’re having trouble winning games when it matters most.”
This is the second consecutive year that Real Salt Lake’s season has ended in October. Last year, the club failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007. This year, the season lasted one more game but the season did not reach November regardless.
Joao Plata scored the only goal for the visitors, converting a penalty kick in the 21st minute that briefly tied the score.
While the result was painful, it was perhaps not unexpected. Real Salt Lake’s numbers were ghastly down the stretch. RSL scored just two goals over the last six games. The club’s confidence was all but evaporated as well – RSL did not hold a lead at all since the club’s 2-1 win over Colorado on Aug. 26.
“(We are) just disappointed in the last seven. We had done so well, we had positioned ourselves so well,” RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. “There are a few reasons why we sputtered toward the end but we were never able to capitalize on our good play in those games… and we started to leak goals and that’s not a good combination.”
The defense was indeed exposed but the attack never gave RSL a true chance. With a toothless attack, the defense is forced to scramble and the team’s overall mentality and confidence suffers.
“Earlier in the year we were scoring first and being more aggressive,” Cassar said. “Teams have to adapt and the game opens up more for our offense. The last seven games we’re giving up the first goal and we’re chasing, we’re changing our game plan because now we’re down a goal. These last six, seven games the goal got really small for us.”
Part of that may be attributed to forward Yura Movsisyan’s absence. Nursing a heel injury, Movsisyan started just one of the last four regular-season matches. Without him, RSL lacked ideas and a target man on the attack. Movsisyan made an appearance Wednesday when he came on in the 58th minute in favor of Juan Manuel Martinez.
The Galaxy struck first. Playing in his first MLS playoff match since winning the MLS Cup 2014 in this building, Landon Donovan fired a cross from the right flank to the near post where Giovani Dos Santos raced in. Dos Santos flicked a header to the back post, past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and Alan Gordon easily buried the ball into an open net in the 14th minute.
RSL, though, recovered nicely. Javier Morales was tripped from behind by Emanuel Boateng inside the penalty area and RSL was awarded a penalty kick. Joao Plata buried the spot kick and RSL leveled terms in the 21st minute.
Real Salt Lake’s defense though was powerless to slow down the speedy Boateng, who scored goals in the 26th and 34th minutes to give the hosts a commanding two-goal lead.
With the score tied, Boateng took the ball near the top of the penalty area and danced around three defenders before slipping a left-footed shot past Rimando. Boateng put the game out of reach when he sprinted past Demar Phillips and buried a shot just past Rimando’s outstretched arms.
Cassar made all three substitutions by the 74th minute, playing Luke Mulholland and Jordan Allen in favor of Chris Wingert and Javier Morales. Real Salt Lake had some decent looks on goal in the second half but failed to cut into the Galaxy’s lead.
“It’s disappointing to finish like this,” Wingert said. “Everybody’s attitude was right but we came up against a good team.”