Real Salt Lake: Galaxy get a leg up on RSL in playoff opener
Major League Soccer • Los Angeles beats Salt Lake 1-0 in first leg of series.
Published: November 4, 2013 09:34AM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:37PM
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Javier Morales

Carson, Calif. • Walking around lightly in the visitor’s locker room below the StubHub Center, eight months of a demanding season under his legs, Javier Morales found his motivation.

“It’s halftime,” said the smirking Real Salt Lake midfielder.

If it’s halftime, Real Salt Lake certainly has the time to get back into the thick of things following its 1-0 loss to the L.A. Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal Sunday evening in Carson, Calif.

“You come into halftime down 1-0,” Morales explained, “you have a chance to get back and get that result.”

In returning to the confines of Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday for leg two against the Galaxy, RSL has given itself a shot, but it must search for — and discover — a way to be better against L.A.

While Sean Franklin’s uncontested 30-yard blast was the deciding factor in the first round of 90-plus minutes, RSL squandered possession continually in the midfield. A point of emphasis entering Sunday’s match, passes were off, players weren’t finding the right spots or seams, and when the ball was suddenly on the foot of a Galaxy player, the break, as usual, was wide open.

“We can talk all we want about how we’ve got to be better defensively,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis, “but for me, we wouldn’t have to defend as much if we were much better with the ball.”

Routinely cheap giveaways forced RSL’s defense to scramble. Far too often, defenders were staring down waves of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan and Gyasi Zardes putting pressure on the back line.

“It’s obviously tough when they get those counterattacking chances and you have to run 70 yards to prevent them scoring,” said defender Nat Borchers.

As Franklin’s blast will be spliced into highlight clips for some time, RSL thwarted several golden chances from Keane and Donovan. Nick Rimando stopped two point-blank shots from Keane, and Donovan’s 42nd-minute opportunity deflected just wide of goal once Chris Schuler was able to scurry back and clear the shot.

“I think we got very, very lucky not to get scored on a lot more,” Rimando said. “[The Galaxy] are as sharp as they’ve always been up top on their counter-attacks.”

With several mistakes needing to be addressed three days ahead of the second leg of the two-match series at Rio Tinto, RSL still remains alive against L.A.

Having weathered the initial storm, RSL has the opportunity to right the ship Thursday.

“The Galaxy showed us just how incredibly dangerous they can be tonight with all the counterattacking opportunities that they came up with, but it is what it is,” Kreis said, “so I think we have to feel good about only being a goal down with 90 minutes to play at our stadium.”

“I think it’s a fantastic result for us,” Rimando added. “Looking back at the chances they had and it being 1-0 at halftime, I’m happy with it because it could have been a lot worse.”

As summarized by players, RSL is at halftime. Soon comes 90 minutes — perhaps more — for the franchise to keep its 2013 season afloat.

“We haven’t had a game like that when we’ve been that bad with the ball,” Borchers said. “Everybody was bad ­— that’s the bad news. The good news is it’s only a one-goal game.”

ckamrani@sltrib.com

Twitter: @chriskamrani

Storylines Galaxy 1, RSL 0

R Los Angeles’ Sean Franklin scores the game’s only goal in the 48th minute.

• RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando stops two point-blank shots by Robbie Keane.

• Real Salt Lake will host the second leg Thursday.