Sandy • The final whistle blew and Jason Kreis took his hands out of his jacket pockets and threw them into the air, almost in disbelief.
But the Real Salt Lake coach believed it.
Because there was something about Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, something that Kreis noticed in the hours before the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal against the L.A. Galaxy. It was clear there was something different as the match progressed.
RSL, on its heels Sunday in the 1-0 first-leg loss in Southern California, sat 90 minutes from an offseason. But RSL took it to the Galaxy for 120 minutes Thursday. It defended, it countered, it possessed and it attacked and it scored.
After two extra-time periods, RSL defeated the Galaxy 2-0 in the second leg of the series to advance to the Western Conference finals on a 2-1 aggregate.
"If we were going to have a chance at winning this game," captain Kyle Beckerman said, "we’ve got to have 11 guys on [the field] that’s going to fight the guy next to you."
RSL didn’t just fight for another, it took the fight to L.A.
Needing just one goal to get to extra time, RSL found it on the head of 22-year-old Sebastian Velasquez, who was making his first start in the postseason. The shifty midfielder, who started in place of the injured Ned Grabavoy, made an unmarked run into the box and headed a ball by Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo in the 35th minute.
The goal was Velasquez’s first as a professional soccer player.
"When you see a kid with a rat-tail that’s like 5 foot 4, 5-6 or 5-5 heading a ball into the back of the net, it’s not the easiest thing," Velasquez joked. "It’s just a lucky thing, and a moment I’m always going to cherish."
That got RSL through 90 minutes and into overtime.
Defender Chris Schuler circled around the group of players awaiting Javier Morales’ free kick 12 minutes later. The centerback sneakily rounded the entire group to the back post and put his right foot on the end of the cross.
"It’s a game that I walk away from and I say, ‘I’m really happy that Chris Schuler scored the game winner,’ because frankly, he deserved it," Kreis said.
But forward Alvaro Saborio needed to come off the field seven minutes later after suffering an injury. Kreis used his final substitute putting on Cole Grossman for Javier Morales at the end of the first overtime period.
The scenario to relinquish the lead was there. Down to 10 men for the final 11 minutes, RSL defended, keeping Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane at bay, just the way it did for the previous 109 minutes.
"Jason said that we needed to do that and challenged a lot of us," RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "And as you saw, the result today showed that the challenge was met."
Rio Tinto Stadium erupted when the final whistle blew. Nat Borchers pumped his fist. Beckerman found Galaxy players to congratulate them on the series. Rimando applauded the fans with his daughter on his shoulders.
"This wasn’t a game that we were supposed to win," Kreis said. "This wasn’t an opponent that we were much better than. This wasn’t a game where we could come in and draw and advance. We had to win. Our backs were against the wall. We were the underdogs, and our guys went out there and showed what it means to be a part of a team and to treat each other like family."
Now the RSL family has three days to prepare for its fourth conference final in six seasons.
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