Galaxy defender Sean Franklin entered the playoffs having scored only one goal during the regular season.
But his goal Sunday night was just enough to let the Galaxy open its defense of Major League Soccer’s title with a victory.
Franklin’s laser-like shot from 30 yards in the 48th minute gave the Galaxy a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the two-game Western Conference semifinals.
The teams play the second game Thursday at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, in hopes of advancing to the conference finals.
The sellout crowd of 27,000 at StubHub Center erupted when Franklin took a long pass back from forward Robbie Keane, who was near the goal, and drilled a low line drive into the back of the net.
“The ball just kind of came out of the top of the box,” Franklin said. “I just tried to keep it on frame.”
Despite the victory, the Galaxy — which has won the last two MLS championships — heads to Utah with the narrowest advantage. That’s because the semifinals winner is determined by the aggregate number of goals scored over the two matches.
If Real Salt Lake wins by a goal in Utah, the teams would play 30 minutes of extra time to determine the series winner. If they are still tied at that point, the series would be decided by penalty kicks.
“Having the one goal is a real plus, but it’s going to take a heck of an effort in the next 90 minutes to advance” to the finals, Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said.
“Our team played well tonight [and] certainly had a chance to get a few more goals,” Arena said.
Indeed, the Galaxy was especially aggressive in the first half despite failing to score:
In the 19th minute, Keane took a pass from forward Landon Donovan and lined a shot from 16 yards but directly at Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Franklin took a throw-in from Donovan and shot from 22 yards, but the ball sailed over the goal in the 28th minute.
And in the 42nd minute Keane and Donovan passed back and forth on a fastbreak with Donovan taking the shot, but it was intercepted by Real Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler in front of the goal.
Keane had another chance in the 85th minute when he broke free and shot from 12 yards toward the far post, but the ball went wide.
“It would have been a lot better getting a couple more goals,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. “You’ve got to give credit to their guys for ... making some last-second efforts to keep us out of the net.”
But none of the Galaxy players was more thrilled for Franklin than Gonzalez.
“He’s one of the unlikely candidates to be scoring from outside the box, but, boy, was I happy when he did it,” Gonzalez said.
“I even ran all the way over there to celebrate with him. The goal came at the right time.”
Real Salt Lake’s offense grew stronger in the second half and the team had its chances as well.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman hit a left-footed shot from 30 yards in the 73rd minute but it sailed wide.
And in the 78th minute, midfielder Luis Gil fired from 20 yards but the ball flew over the goal.
The winners of the conference finals advance to the MLS Cup championship game on Dec. 7.