Two weeks after suffering defeat at Rio Tinto by The Black and Gold of LAFC, Real Salt Lake traveled to Los Angeles for a Saturday night showdown, hoping to avenge the home-field loss by returning the favor themselves.
LAFC hopped on the scoresheet first in the 10th minute thanks to an impressive combination play and finish from forward Diego Rossi, but RSL equalized seven minutes later off a counter-attack that sprung Aaron Herrera free for his first career MLS goal.
Despite preventing LAFC and its best player — Carlos Vela — from scoring the second goal for most of the game, Vela punished The Claret and Cobalt with a vicious goal from an unimaginable angle on the left side of the goal to give LAFC the one-goal advantage and the eventual 2-1 win.
RSL keeper David Ochoa put on one of the best performances in his career, finishing with eight saves, many of which were highlight-worthy. With 29 shots (nine on target) for LAFC, the outstanding performance from Ochoa likely saved RSL from a final deficit much steeper than one goal.
With the loss, RSL remained in the playoff picture (seventh place), with 16 points in 12 games.
Here are three takeaways from the loss for RSL:
Ochoa stunning in goal
The 20-year-old keeper did the best he could to keep the nose and mouth of Real Salt Lake above the water for most of the game.
Ochoa recorded two stunning saves in the first four minutes of the game, setting the pace for what ended up being a career game for the young, homegrown player. The most notable save came in the 58th minute when Ochoa saved a penalty kick shot by Vela after a handball from Herrera forced the official to point to the spot.
While admitting that the 29 shots from LAFC wasn’t the best stat for his team, Ochoa said he relished the challenge the night presented.
“(I’ve never faced) 29 shots before in the MLS,” Ochoa said. “But honestly, I kind of want those games. It makes me look good, so I don’t mind them.”
The venerable Vela
After holding arguably Major League Soccer’s best player in check for much of the game, the LAFC skipper punished RSL with a vicious finish in the 79th minute.
Until that point in the game, it appeared as though The Claret and Cobalt were frustrating the MVP-winning forward who hit the post twice, put a couple of uncontested shots off frame and missed the penalty kick.
Real Salt Lake head coach Freddy Juarez said after the game that there’s not many tasks harder than stopping a fit Vela.
“They now have a fit Vela, a fit Rossi, who are special players that make good goals,” Juarez said. “Especially that second goal (from Vela), that wonder-strike from a tough angle and he put it away. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of teams that can play like LAFC.”
RSL defense put in a pressure cooker
Although The Claret and Cobalt remained equal on the scoresheet for the majority of the match, it came as little surprise when the go-ahead goal was scored by an LAFC squad that was putting the RSL backline in uncomfortable situations for extensive stretches of the game and eventually wore them down.
Effort was never in question as RSL worked to get out of their own half of the field, but it ultimately couldn’t find much daylight.
Herrera said after the game he was satisfied with the effort he and the team put in defensively, but said that effort isn’t enough when playing in Banc of California Stadium.
“Effort was great, but at this level, at a stadium like this against a team like LAFC, effort isn’t going to be able to get it done,” Herrera said. “Twenty-nine shots is not a good number to have against you...effort is not enough here, we’ve got to have more quality, better decision-making and we’ve got to be more locked-in coming in.”