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LA Galaxy punish sloppy Real Salt Lake, spoiling celebratory night as 2009 championship team honored

LA Galaxy score twice in second half to vault into third place in Western Conference, with RSL remaining in fifth

Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnák (11) squats down on the pitch after Real Salt Lake lost 2-1 to the LA Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnák (11) squats down on the pitch after Real Salt Lake lost 2-1 to the LA Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SANDY —Defense has been Real Salt Lake’s strength since June, but with a chance Wednesday night to cement itself firmly in a playoff position, that same defense was uncharacteristically sloppy.

Careless giveaways and missteps throughout the second half gifted the LA Galaxy two goals and the visitors made them hold up in a 2-1 victory at sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium with huge playoff implications.

The Galaxy vaulted into third place in the West with the victory while RSL remained in fifth. It will now need help to try and secure a home playoff game with two regular season games remaining, and even a playoff spot is no guarantee.

Real Salt Lake’s record against the top four teams in the West (Los Angeles FC, Minnesota, LA Galaxy and Seattle) now stands at 1-6-1.

RSL has a quick turnaround this Sunday against 10th-place Houston in the final regular home game of the season.

Defender Nedum Onuoha said that despite the letdown of losing in front of the largest home crowd of the season, he expects a very motivated performance in the home finale.

“This is the first game of the season where it feels like it’s a true must-win, people are motivated for it because we want a better account forward compared to what we’ve just done today. I believe when Sunday comes, we’ll be ready to go and we’ll take it right to Houston and see what we can do,” said Onuoha.

On Wednesday, RSL was decent for the first half but uncharacteristic mistakes in the second half sealed its fate.

“Tactically they didn’t do anything but they upped their tempo and we didn’t respond well,” said RSL interim coach Freddy Juarez. “Ten minutes there in the second half we just started out too slow and that can’t happen.”

The loss spoiled a celebratory atmosphere at Rio Tinto Stadium as the 2009 MLS Cup championship team was honored before the game. Javier Morales also had his name unveiled next to Jason Kreis’ in the rafters at Rio Tinto Stadium to celebrate his decade playing with the club.

It was a relatively uneventful first half for RSL — except for Sam Johnson’s miss off both posts — but the second half was very eventful, and not in a good way.

It started in the 48th minute when Onuoha failed to clear the ball away at the end line, a mistake that miraculously wasn’t punished thanks to a miracle save by the gut of Donny Toia.

It should’ve been an easy finish from Cristian Pavón from eight yards out and Nick Rimando off his line but Pavón wasn’t clinical at all hammering the shot straight at Toia, despite an open goal around him.

Two minutes later, Pavón didn’t miss from a much tougher angle.

Aaron Herrera’s stumble in midfield allowed Pavón to run into the box 1v1 vs. Onuoha, and he created just enough space to his left to get off a shot and beat Rimando for the 1-0 lead in the 50th minute.

RSL’s attack created a handful of half chances over the next 30 minutes, but it wasn’t composed enough, according to Juarez, in the final third to finish anything off.

In the 80th minute, Justen Glad made a huge lapse in judgement, which the Galaxy punished for the 2-0 lead.

Glad tried to shield Pavón from the ball and let it run over the end line, but Pavón instead made a savvy move to tap the ball away. He quickly found an open Zlatan Ibrahimović who hammered the ball in off the far post for what proved to be the game winner.

“Justen is a good enough player to know it was a big mistake and the decisions that went to that point were probably incorrect but it’s not something he does week in and week out which is why I believe he’s a good player, and I think he knows he’s a good player as well,” said Onuoha. “It turns out when you make that mistake against certain people you will be punished.”

Onuoha helped RSL pull a goal back in the 89th minute as his back-flick header on a long-range shot from Sebastian Saucedo redirected the ball past LA keeper David Bingham.

In five minutes of stoppage time, RSL only generated one shot, a long-range effort that didn’t test the keeper.

“We’re very disappointed in the locker room today and we’re lucky enough to have one more home game left this season. We want to finish the regular season as strong as possible,” said Onuoha.