Real Salt Lake Tops Galaxy In Opener
The Galaxy, reigning MLS Cup and Supporters Shield champions, only improved upon their title winning squad from a year ago in the offseason, re-signing David Beckham and adding American forward Edson Buddle and Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas.
It was comforting for other squads, then, to see the title favorites struggle so mightily on the defensive end in their MLS opener, squandering a 1-0 lead through the game’s first 72 minutes to lose 3-1 before a sellout crowd of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
“I thought we were deservedly up a goal and the next thing I knew, it was 3-1,” Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan said. “It was a little bit of a fluky game and we weren’t great in certain parts but we probably realistically could have scored six or seven goals tonight.”
Galaxy defender Sean Franklin deflected a cross into his own net in the 73rd minute before Argentineans Javier Morales (80th minute) and Fabian Espindola (85th) scored to earn RSL the three points. Edson Buddle gave the Galaxy the lead in the 71st minute on a header set up by a Beckham assist.
Galaxy manager Bruce Arena, the 2011 MLS Coach of the Year, blamed the loss on himself, saying he should have rotated more players into the starting lineup following the Galaxy’s 2-2 Wednesday draw against Toronto in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Arena made only two changes from Wednesday’s squad, giving Sarvas and rookie defender Tommy Meyer their Galaxy home debuts.
Arena was reluctant to point to the absence of 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez, out for most of the season after tearing his ACL during an offseason loan spell in Europe, as a reason for the Galaxy’s defensive breakdowns.
“Don’t talk about Omar Gonzalez,” Arena said. “What would Omar Gonzalez have to do with an own goal? They were tired mistakes.”
The match was supposed to double as a welcome back party for Beckham, who spurned a lucrative offseason offer from French club Paris St. Germain to re-up with the Galaxy for two more seasons.
“I saw a few ‘Welcome Back’ signs out there but I didn’t know I’d gone,” Beckham said with a smile. “It’s nice to have a lot of love in the stands from the fans and it’s nice to be back playing. I enjoyed the five years that I had before and I’m going to enjoy this year but I won’t enjoy tonight too much.”
The teams played the first half mostly even but the better chances fell to the Galaxy. Landon Donovan hit a volleyed shot off the crossbar in the 27th minute. Moments later, Mike Magee put a bicycle-kick shot on frame but Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando made the save.
Sarvas nearly put his name up in lights in his debut right before halftime. The Brazilian’s shot from 30 yards out hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced straight down, coming very close to crossing the goal line.
“Maybe one or two centimeters down and it was a goal,” Sarvas said. “It was one of the main [chances] we had in the game. We could have scored more.”
The first 25 minutes of the second half were played mostly in the midfield, until Beckham found Buddle in the center of the penalty box with one of his trademarked bending crosses. Buddle, who left the Galaxy following the 2010 season to play in Europe, scored his first MLS goal since rejoining the club.
“I’m happy to be back,” Buddle said. “It’s comforting to have David [Beckham] on the field. You get good balls and good service [from him].”
Just two minutes after Buddle’s goal, while the Galaxy faithful were still celebrating L.A.’s first MLS goal of the season, Salt Lake rookie midfielder Sebastian Velasquez got free down the right wing and whipped a low cross into the penalty box. Franklin’s attempted clearance shot past Saunders and into the side netting.
“After the own goal, they got some momentum,” Franklin said.
The visitors took the lead in the 80th minute when Morales, who came on as a substitute just 13 minutes prior, pounced on a loose ball in the box and jabbed a shot into the roof of the Galaxy’s goal. Espindola completed the score line in the 85th, beating Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza down the left flank and slotting a low shot past Saunders.
The loss was the Galaxy’s first at home in MLS since 2010—they won 12 and drew five of their 17 regular season home games last season.
“We’re not going to win every single game,” DeLaGarza said. “I guess it’s good to lose now than later down the road. It’s something we can all learn from. We have a game Wednesday, so we’ll take tomorrow off, get rested and be ready to play.”
• There is no rest for the weary as the Galaxy return to action Wednesday night in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup with Toronto F.C. The Galaxy will advance with a win or a low-scoring draw (0-0 or 1-1) because of the away goals rule. Beckham said that after winning the MLS Cup last season, winning the Champions League is one of the team’s main goals this year. “I think it’s the next step for the club,” Beckham said. “Of course as individuals we want to do well in all competitions but after winning the championship last year, we want to the same again this year and we’re advanced in the Champions League and we want to continue to progress as a club. I think Wednesday is a big game in achieving that goal.” Wednesday’s game will kick off at 7 p.m. Pacific and will be televised on Fox Soccer Channel.
• MLS Commissioner Don Garber and NBC Sports president of programming Jon Miller spoke to the media during halftime of Saturday night’s game. Garber praised new broadcast partner NBC for its commitment to the league and said a “MLS 36” player profile show is in the works, patterned after NBC’s “NHL 36” show that follows around a player for 36 hours. Garber also said the league is in talks with NBC about a possible weekly review program, which would show highlights from each of the week’s MLS games.
• The Galaxy showcased the club’s new uniforms for the first time at home this season. The main change is the addition of a diagonal blue stripe that runs across the players’ chests. The Home Depot Center also got a facelift over the offseason, with new large banners celebrating the Galaxy’s MLS Cup and Supporters Shield titles hanging from one end of the stadium and a concrete path replacing the old dirt strip between the field and the stands.