Real Salt Lake beats L.A. to win MLS Cup
November 23, 2009
SEATTLE – They were railed and criticized for reaching the championship of Major League Soccer despite a losing record in the regular season.
After outlasting and outplaying the stars from the Los Angeles Galaxy, no one is downplaying what Real Salt Lake accomplished.
“We wanted to see how many heart attacks we could cause to the fans and family,” RSL midfielder Clint Mathis said. “But none of that matters. What matters is having a gold medal and we are champions.”
Robbie Russell scored in the seventh round of penalty kicks and Real Salt Lake stunned the star-studded Galaxy 5-4 in penalties on Sunday night to win the MLS championship.
Russell’s winner came after RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando smothered Edson Buddle’s weak attempt in the seventh round and set off a wild celebration for a team dismissed because they went 11-12-7 during the regular season and needed help on the last weekend of the season just to reach the playoffs.
But there was RSL spending 30 minutes afterward on the confetti covered field while a few thousand fans that made the trip from Utah yelled, and cheered and chanted “Nick Rimando” as RSL celebrated.
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“It’s nice to say we’re the best team in the league,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said. “… My honest opinion is we deserved to win that game.”
It was the second straight shootout victory for RSL, which beat Chicago 5-4 on penalties last week for the Eastern Conference championship. Rimando made three saves in the penalty shootout against the Fire and the game MVP came up big again in front of 46,011 fans, the fourth-largest crowd for a MLS Cup.
While Real could celebrate a most unlikely title – and the first professional crown for the state of Utah since 1971 – the stars of Los Angeles were left wondering how a match they controlled for the first 45 minutes slipped away.
It was the crisp passing of David Beckham and Landon Donovan that gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead in the 41st minute when Donovan’s perfect cross found the foot of Mike Magee at the back post.
From there, the Galaxy’s control of play quickly disappeared.
Donovan became a non-factor, as the league MVP was constantly hounded by the Real defense and never given space. The pain killers Beckham took before the game to relieve the discomfort from a bone bruise in his right foot started wearing off early in the second half and his limp became more noticeable.
Meanwhile, RSL kept attacking. Robbie Findley scored in the 64th minute to pull RSL even at 1 and the peppering of the Los Angeles goal continued from there. They nearly scored again before the end of regulation, then missed a trio of opportunities during overtime: Findley’s left-footed shot toward an open goal that was deflected by Los Angeles defender A.J. DeLaGarza and drives by Findley and Mathis scooting wide.
The Galaxy were fortunate just to reach penalties.
“I don’t think all of them were out of gas,” Real captain Kyle Beckerman said of the Galaxy. “But there were a lot of them gassing at the end.”
In the shootout, Beckham scored first as the first four kicks went in order. After Rimando’s save, Beckerman’s shot was shoved aside by Los Angeles keeper Josh Saunders.
That brought up Donovan, who was 19 for 21 in his MLS career on penalty kicks, the only two misses saved. He tried to go high on Rimando, but sailed the attempt well over the bar.
“I just put it in the air,” Donovan said. “You know, it’s probably partially due to tired legs and not concentrating in that moment.”
Real had a chance to win it in the fifth round but Andy Williams’ shot was saved by Saunders. Two rounds later, Williams was able to celebrate with Russell as RSL became the second expansion team in MLS history to win the title, joining Chicago in 1998.
“I just went with my gut. I went left, the ball went right. There’s not much I can do,” said Saunders, who replaced starter Donovan Ricketts in the 66th minute after Ricketts injured his right hand in a collision with Findley early in the second half.