Sandy » Lightning in the skies forced a long delay in Real Salt Lake's long-awaited MLS Cup rematch with the Los Angeles Galaxy at nearly sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night.
But it took Javier Morales to truly electrify the crowd.
The midfielder who was forced to miss most of the title-winning game with an injury enjoyed a sweet measure of redemption, scoring a controversial game-winning goal in the 80th minute to give RSL a thrilling 1-0 victory in front of 19,513 fans that snapped the Galaxy's record-tying 12-game unbeaten streak to start the Major League Soccer season.
"That was good for me," he said. "The goal, the winner ... everything."
Morales ripped off his jersey as the ball rippled the back of the net, and waved it in celebratory arcs as he streaked across the field while goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and his coach, Bruce Arena, raged for an offside call to nullify the strike.
But the ball that found Morales deep in the penalty box had ricocheted toward the L.A. goal off the Galaxy's Michael Stephens, who had charged in from midfield to challenge RSL's Pablo Campos near the top of the box.
The ruling that the carom constituted a back pass meant Morales could not be called offside.
"It wasn't a pass," Arena argued. "There wasn't a pass on the whole play. ... It was a missed play. Let's be fair. Over the season you're going to get some in your favor and some are going to go against you."
So the goal stood, and RSL secured its 16th straight regular-season home victory -- a satisfying prize to take on the league's upcoming 21/2-week break during the group stage of the World Cup in South Africa. The team also extended its unbeaten streak to seven games overall.
"It's special for us, for sure," defender Nat Borchers said. "We've been looking forward to this game, marking our calendars for months. We knew it was going to be a great matchup for us and a big challenge, and I thought that the guys played so well tonight.
"Everybody in every single position played well, and that's what you want when you're playing a really good team."
Maybe even a great one.
The Galaxy entered the game 10-0-2, having astonishingly allowed only three goals in that span, since losing to RSL on penalty kicks in the title game last season. RSL had scored one of them in a 2-1 loss to the Galaxy on the road in April.
But this matchup meant more, if only because the Galaxy have been on such a roll -- even without World Cup stars Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle. Coach Jason Kreis mentioned several weeks ago that he would love to be the first team to beat them.
It happened after the game was delayed 38 minutes by lightning in the first half, and played in a lock-down style that belied the fact that RSL and the Galaxy are the two highest-scoring teams in the league.
RSL had scored 10 goals in its last three home games, but had a hard time penetrating the solid Galaxy defense.
"They had a very strict game plan and we had a very strict game plan," RSL's Ned Grabavoy said. "And you saw that it was like two teams with a complete opposite style of play against each other. We were just fortunate to get a goal. We knew it was going to be a one-goal game."
Once again, RSL played without injured midfielder Kyle Beckerman and forward Robbie Findley, who's playing in the World Cup. Yet it pulled out another victory, improving to 3-0-1 since losing the two key players, and 7-3-2 overall.
Better still, the win kept RSL within striking distance of the Galaxy in the race for the Supporters Shield, awarded to the team with the best regular-season record.
"We end up on a really positive note" before the league's hiatus, Kreis said. "We're really pleased with where we're at right now, and we can take a little bit of a breather now and relax and enjoy some time off."
|Real Salt Lake||7||3||2||23||22||11|
Chicago 2, Colorado 2
Real Salt Lake 1, Los Angeles 0
Philadelphia at Kansas City, 6 p.m.
D.C. United at Seattle FC, 8 p.m.
Friday, June 25
San Jose at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m.
IN SHORT » RSL beats Los Angeles 1-0 to end the Galaxy's record-tying 12-game unbeaten run.
KEY MOMENT » Javier Morales scores the winner on a controversial back-pass in the 80th minute.
KEY STAT » RSL has won 19 straight home games in all competitions.
Friday, June 25, 7 p.m.
TV » KUSG 2.2