Sandy • On a night set aside to remember, it was a night to forget.
With the majority of the 2009 MLS Cup winning team in attendance, this year’s version of RSL fell short to the Los Angeles Galaxy, losing 2-1 to push them down to fifth place in MLS’s Western Conference.
It seemed like a tale of two halves for RSL, but one side was more successful in its period of dominance than the other. In the first half, RSL was clicking while the Galaxy looked scattered, with a bunch of unforced giveaways short-circuiting their attack.
For example, RSL hit not one, but two posts in one close call in the 38th minute. Then, Albert Rusnak pounded a corner kick low and hard to the near post, and a deflection pushed the ball off the closer upright, which then ricocheted off the far post, then out.
But the beginning of the second half was all Galaxy: A Uriel Antuna shot headed for goal was blocked by Donny Toia with his lower midsection, centerback Daniel Steres just missed the goal with a header, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed the target with a left-footed shot from near the 6-yard box, all in the half’s first five minutes.
The breakthrough came on a counterattack. On a long ball headed forward by Ibrahimovic, RSL defender Aaron Herrera stumbled, leaving Pavon with a relatively clear path to goal. While the defense pushed him wide, Nick Rimando was unable to stop the angled shot.
RSL pushed for an equalizer over the next 30 minutes, but another mistake cost them another goal, and in the end, the game-winning one. As Justen Glad tried to usher Pavon out of bounds near the corner flag, the Argentine playmaker was able to keep the ball in and get by Glad, leading to a wide open Ibrahimovic in the box. A simple finish made it 2-0.
“We had more space in the second half, and we had good chances," Ibrahimovic said. We kept going. I scored the second one, and all of the pressure (went off)."
But while the Galaxy credited their mindset, RSL called the two mistakes that led to the goals “uncharacteristic,” perhaps a fair description given they’ve allowed only 40 goals all season, third in MLS.
“Two silly goals, in my opinion,” coach Freddy Juarez said.
Defender Nedum Onuoha agreed: "To be successful, you have to limit mistakes. I think today, uncharacteristically for us, we made them.”
RSL did get one back, but it ended up as only a consolation. After forcing a corner that the Galaxy were able to clear, substitute Sebastian Saucedo volleyed a ball toward the middle of the goal. While it looked likely to be saved, Onuoha’s late headed deflection pushed it past David Bingham of the Galaxy.
In the end, late wasted chances in stoppage time sealed the loss for RSL. For the match, they took 18 shots, but only five ended up on goal.
“Just the composure. It felt like a rushed situation every time we were in the 18-yard area," Juarez explained.
The game saw two special ceremonies: one honoring the 2009 MLS Cup team pregame, and one halftime event honoring former RSL midfielder Javier Morales. The latter had his name posted in the Rio Tinto rafters, alongside his usual No. 11 jersey number.
“This club has been so important to me, I never had the chance to say goodbye. Being here at this moment with my teammates and friends ... it means a lot to me,” Morales said. “I don’t know how the fans are going to remember me, but I know how I’m going to remember them ... RSL fans will always be in my heart. Thank you for the best 10 years of my career.”
But the emotional loss means RSL slips out of the top four spots in the Western Conference — the spots that mean a home playoff game. Just two games remain for RSL: a match Sunday against Houston in Sandy, and one on the road in Vancouver on Oct. 6. In particular, all involved called the Houston contest a must win, especially given that it could be Nick Rimando’s last home game after the goalkeeper announced his retirement earlier this season.