It may have been the first game of the season for Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy, but one team had a score to settle and the other wanted to confirm a changing of the guard. RSL beat the Galaxy in last year’s playoffs, so the memory was fresh as the match got off to a blistering pace. In the end, RSL would emerge with a 1-0 victory. However, the marquee match up in the Western Conference of MLS became a story of replacement officials, stellar goalkeeping and aggressive play.
Alvaro Saborio and Omar Gonzalez battled all night with flailing arms and lots of contact. Javier Morales took a beating, hitting the turf hard on three separate occasions. Morales was actually substituted off because of the physical nature of the match. Landon Donovan was knocked several times by rough Tony Beltran tackles. There were five yellow cards and 42 total fouls, 21 on each team, handed out. After the match, Donovan said the refs called too many fouls on the night.
The goal came minutes after a blown offside call against RSL when Luke Mulholland thought he had tapped in his first MLS goal. Kyle Beckerman found a delicate pass that may have been intended for Saborio to spring Joao Plata in behind the defense. There was controversy on the goal, as it appeared Plata may have been leaning offside, but the pace of the pass was slow enough to keep Plata level with AJ DeLaGarza.
— Heath Waddingham (@RSLTotalMLS) March 9, 2014
The replacement referees almost became an even bigger story, as Los Angeles was awarded a stoppage time penalty kick when Rob Friend sold a foul from Beltran. Friend is a big imposing player that looked to be sent completely off balance by the much smaller Beltran. After the goalie handed out a dissent yellow card for arguing, Robbie Keane stepped up with a hesitation, but Nick Rimando parried the ball away. Rimando got up and demonstratively yelled something in the referee’s direction. After the match, the referees may have crossed the professionalism line as well.
I think the ref just went and asked for Landon’s autograph
— Charles Barnard (@ccb1212) March 9, 2014
The game had the makings for a lot of goals for the first 65 minutes, but it was the goalkeepers that stole the show. Rimando was challenged multiple times in the first half. Donovan got behind the defense and looked to become the MLS leading goal scorer, but Rimando stuck out an arm to rob the record. Keane did beat Rimando once, but hit the post.
Jaime Penedo had his own time to shine as well with a great diving save on Morales midway through the first half. Penedo has been a clear upgrade in goal since arriving in Los Angeles last summer and continued to show his quality decision making. Plata and Saborio both had good chances that were easy for Penedo.
There were a lot of momentum shifts in this one despite the possession numbers being very close when the final whistle blew. The Galaxy came out hard from the opening whistle until RSL took over around around the 25 minute mark. RSL had the ball after halftime, but then had to work off the counter attack. The Galaxy did dominate on shots on goal.
In the end, perhaps it was a fair result. An offside call that was easily the worst call of Week 1 by replacement referees was nullified by a goal shortly thereafter. The goalkeeping was stellar on both sides in the beginning and capped off the win for RSL. The players will still be feeling the aggressive play in a couple days as they prep for Week 2.