CARSON, Calif. – In Real Salt Lake’s final preparation ahead of Sunday’s Western Conference Championship match against the LA Galaxy, midfielder Javier Morales talked about how his team would enjoy the bigger confines of The Home Depot Center.
The dimension of the field, he said, would suit RSL’s possession brand of soccer.
It certainly looked that way in the first half of the game, when the visitors found themselves enjoying plenty of space an plenty of the ball and could have gone into the half with a lead rather than a 1-1 tie.
But the fun RSL had in the first half ended in the second half after David Beckham – who took advantage of a big, open field – appeared alone on the right flank and whipped in a cross that Mike Magee headed home to put the Galaxy on top 2-1.
“In a couple of spots, we’d lose [the ball] where we’re not expecting to and maybe Robbie Russell is pushed forward or Chris Wingert is pushed forward, and then [LA are] in transition and in the break out at us,” said head coach Jason Kreis.
“The [second] goal in particular comes off service from Beckham, and I don’t think we got anybody close to him. You can’t give a player like that that kind of time and space on the ball. He’ll punish you. And he did.”
At that point, with LA’s famous ability to close down to hold the lead and RSL’s need to score another equalizer, the rectangular field might as well have become an isosceles trapezoid: narrow at one end and absolutely wide at the other.
RSL did have a couple more opportunities at goal – most notably Fabián Espíndola’s attempt that hit the crossbar in the second – but in their zeal to score, left the back end unattended and vulnerable to the counter.
“It’s a big field and the game opened up a bit,” RSL left back Chris Winger said. “I think they’re excellent at the counterattack with some big time firepower.”
That firepower came in the form of Robbie Keane, who capped the 3-1 result by finishing the breakaway and could’ve had more.
Down two goals with just over 20 minutes remaining, Kreis could care less whether the field was big or small. All he cared about was his team scoring to get back into the match.
“When you’re down two goals, everything else goes out the window,” he said. “You just gotta go and go and yeah, absolutely we’re going to give up chances against us. That doesn’t have anything to do with the size of the field, but everything to do with our willingness and commitment to just absolutely throw the kitchen sink at it.”
In the end, RSL were left to rue the bigger field they had been itching to play on.
“We like to keep the ball, and on a different day, I think we could have done it better,” said Johnson.