Behind goals from Sebastian Velasquez and an overtime goal by Chris Schuler, RSL defeats the LA Galaxy 2-1 on aggregate, and will play the Portland Timbers for the right to move on to the MLS Cup.
“We really talked about it yesterday and today," said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. "If we’re gonna have a chance at winning this game, we got to have 11 guys on there that’s going to fight for the guy next to you. No matter what happens, he’s going to run for the other guy, and he’ll run for the next guy. That’s what happened tonight. When we do that we’re going to be successful.”
In the 35th minute, Velasquez gave RSL the goal it needed to bring the two-match Western Conference Semifinals series even on aggregate. It was the first MLS goal for the 22-year-old midfielder.
Velasquez took a beautiful cross from defender Chris Wingert and headed it past Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo to draw RSL even in the two-match series. Velasquez got the start only because of a hamstring injury to Ned Grabavoy.
“It’s a great feeling to contribute and help the team win against LA," said Velasquez. "Obviously I wanted to get a goal, but the most important thing was to win. If I would have been able to choose when to score a goal, I think today would have been perfect. It was an amazing feeling. I’m never going to forget that moment.”
Then in the 102nd minute, Chris Schuler took a free kick from Javier Morales on the left flank and buried it in the far corner of the net to send the home team through to the Western Conference finals despite playing with 10 men for much of the second half of extra time due to an injury to Alvaro Saborio.
“I think we’re in pretty good form right now," said Schuler. "We’ve had a lot of momentum. Everyone’s been buzzing the whole time, and we had a nice fanbase show up today. I’ve never heard our stadium be that loud. It’s pretty cool; it was a good experience. There are some good things going in our direction.”
“He was massive," head coach Jason Kreis said about Schuler. "Again, a number of balls he stepped in front of from Donovan and Keane today. He made physical challenges and completed the first pass. All those little things were huge for us. Once again this game I walk away from it and I say ‘I’m really happy that Chris Schuler scored the game winning goal because he deserved it.”
RSL left Los Angeles on Sunday feeling fortunate they didn't give up more than one goal on Sunday and the Galaxy made it through regulation in Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday with the same kind of luck, as the Claret-and-Cobalt could easily have scored multiple times.
Real Salt Lake abandoned the defensive 4-5-1 formation it employed for the first two-thirds of Sunday's loss, coming out in its familiar diamond midfield that paid dividends from the start. RSL controlled the run of play for most of the first 35 minutes, managing to fend off a number of dangerous Galaxy counter-attacks.
But despite its chances — and intense pressure after the goal — LA couldn't get the ball in the net. The Galaxy had only one shot on target in 90-plus minutes of regulation.
RSL appeared to win the series in regulation as Javier Morales' free kick found the back of the net from 40 yards out. But the goal was negated by an apparent foul call by referee Baldomero Toledo on Schuler for tugging on the jersey of Omar Gonzalez.
The victory exorcised some demons for Real Salt Lake, snapping a streak of futility for the Claret-and-Cobalt on their home turf. RSL had chances to win the 2008 Western Conference title, a 2010 Conference semifinal, the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, and this year's U.S. Open Cup championship in Rio Tinto Stadium — and came up short every time.
“It’s huge," said head coach Jason Kreis. "I think it just builds an incredible amount of momentum for us. An incredible amount of confidence and positivity. To get that goal in the first half, I think was giant for us. It took a big, big monkey off our backs.”
Real Salt Lake will face the the Portland Timbers in another two-game aggregate goal series beginning Sunday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.