Galaxy earns spot in MLS title game with 3-1 win
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A first-half penalty-kick score from Landon Donovan and second-half goals by Mike Magee and Robbie Keane lifted the Galaxy to a 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake at the Home Depot Center on Sunday, giving it Major League Soccer’s Western Conference crown and earning a trip to the MLS title game in two weeks on its home field.
Real Salt Lake’s goal came on a header by Alvaro Saborio midway through the first half.
The Galaxy will meet the Houston Dynamo in the championship game Nov. 20 Houston won the Eastern Conference final Sunday, upsetting Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, despite losing midfielder Brad Davis, a leading MVP candidate, to a strained right quadriceps late in the first half.
Houston’s goals, both in the second half, came from Andre Hainault and Carlos Costly.
The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, were the most difficult teams to score against during the MLS regular season. And Sunday, playing in chilly weather before an announced crowd of 23,437, they showed why, bending but rarely breaking on the defensive end.
The Galaxy missed a chance to take a quick lead when Chad Barrett got loose behind the Real Salt Lake defense in the third minute and ran down a through ball. But his open left-footed shot from inside the 18-yard box was high.
Two minutes later Salt Lake missed a great chance of its own after Javier Morales’ corner kick was volleyed in front of the Galaxy net where Robbie Russell got a foot on it. But his hard shot from short range went right into midsection of a surprised Josh Saunders, allowing the Galaxy keeper to make the save.
And that just the start of what would be an active and entertaining first half in which the teams combined for 11 shots and 17 fouls, with the Galaxy leading by one in both categories.
The Galaxy finally broke on top in the 23rd minute after Real Salt Lake’s Andy Williams chested Omar Gonzalez in the penalty area as the Galaxy defender tried to get his head on a cross in front of the goal. Williams was whistled for the foul and Donovan converted the penalty shot cleanly, driving a right-footed shot into the right corner for his second penalty-shot goal in as many games. The lead lasted just two minutes, though, before defender Jamison Olave redirected Javier Morales’ corner kick from the left side of the goal back in front, where Saborio drove a hard header by Saunders.
The Galaxy had a chance to get the lead back in the 33rd minute but Keane’s open right-footer struck the post. Nine minutes later it was Keane again, taking a feed from Barrett, slipping Olave with a beautiful move, then firing a low, bending shot that just missed to the far side.
The last shot of the half came from Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, whose right-footed blast from the top of the box struck the post with seconds left in stoppage time.
Both teams picked up right where they left off after the intermission and less than six minutes in, the Galaxy raced nearly the length of the field with David Beckham feeding Keane, whose cross gave Barrett a great chance in front of the goal. But the header from about five yards hit Will Johnson directly in the face, sending the midfielder to the turf as the ball caromed harmlessly over the goal.
Less than five minutes later it was Magee missing high with a header off another beautiful cross from Beckham. He didn’t miss on his next chance, though, scoring on a diving header off another perfect Beckham pass in the 58th minute.
Keane finished the scoring in the 68th minute, taking a pass from Donovan and racing up the left wing, deking Olave again with another deft move, then sending a low shot into the far corner.
Salt Lake didn’t quit, so it fell to Saunders to keep the lead at two goals with a diving right-handed save on Morales in the 84th minute. Seconds into stoppage time, RSL came up short again when Fabian Espindola missed just wide of the right post.
The win left the Galaxy unbeaten in 23 matches this season at the Home Depot Center, where the MLS Cup will be contested in two weeks. The Galaxy will be playing in the league championship for the second time in three seasons. In its last final, in 2009, Los Angeles lost to Real Salt Lake on penalty kicks.
-- Kevin Baxter