This one lived up to its billing. The Galaxy and Real Salt Lake came out firing, and in the end, LA just had a little bit more in the tank — and a little bit more luck.
Both teams kissed the crossbar, but RSL hit it twice, and the second one was a back-breaker. Just seconds after Mike Magee had given the Galaxy a 2-1 lead, Fabián Espíndola turned the LA defense inside-out and found room to squeeze off a shot in the box. Somehow it drifted over Josh Saunders, but pinged off the underside of the crossbar and came back out.
In other words, it just wasn't RSL's night. And LA have a way of punishing teams that have bad luck.
Here are the ratings:
Josh Saunders (8) - He made a series of spectacular saves in the second half, and can't be faulted at all on the goal. No question that he's earned the No. 1 role in LA.
Sean Franklin (5) - Franklin got forward well and didn't leave space for the RSL counter, but he could have been carded for a late challenge on Will Johnson and should have done better on the overlap.
Omar Gonzalez (5.5) - Clearly not at the peak he reached in August and September, but he battled all night, won almost everything in the air and was a weapon for LA on set pieces.
A.J. DeLaGarza (6) - No turnovers and picked up tons of second balls all over the back line. After a mini-slump at the start of October, he's been the Galaxy's best defender in the playoffs.
Todd Dunivant (5) - Like Franklin, he needed to be better when he overlapped, which was often. Did a good job of timing his attacks, and was always there as an outlet, but has trouble with the final ball.
Juninho (6.5) - Javier Morales disappeared after the first 15 minutes or so, and the Brazilian was why. Switched the ball well, protected the back line and reminded everyone just how valuable he is.
David Beckham (8) - Sent in a cross that belongs in a museum, and somehow got better as the game went on. He's been the league's best in the playoffs, and his ability to put long-balls into stride makes him a one-man breakout.
Mike Magee (7.5) - Three goals in three games for Magee, who's become the master at sneaking onto the back post. Lacked sharpness in the build-up, but made a play when it mattered.
Landon Donovan (6.5) - A goal and an assist, but still somewhat of a subpar game by his high standards. His passing hasn't been crisp and his burst isn't there, but it's hard to argue with production.
Robbie Keane (7) - Had a very, very nice one-on-one goal, but probably could have had at least three. Hit the post for the third time in three games — that's gotta change soon, right?
Chad Barrett (5.5) - All over the field, linking play and pressuring the RSL back line. The problem, as always, came with the finish, as he squandered several good chances before coming off.
Chris Birchall (5.5) - Came on for Barrett in the 63rd minute. Covered a lot of ground in the midfield and worked hard defensively, but his passing left much to be desired.
Michael Stephens (NR) - Came on for Beckham in second-half stoppage. Didn't factor at all.
Bruce Arena (7.5) - He's handled this team masterfully all season, and has showed flexibility in his approach in the playoffs. Game 1: shutout. Game 2: comeback. Game 3: offensive explosion. Has his team on the verge of the double — and immortality.
Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando (6) - Can't blame him on any of the goals, though maybe on his day he gets enough of Magee's game-winner to push it away. Simply nothing he could do on the two others.
Chris Wingert (5) - Was pinned back most of the game, tasked with helping keep the wobbly central defense steady. Ended up leaving too much room on the flank, and wasn't able to add anything going forward.
Chris Schuler (5) - Consistently struggled to distribute, which was a factor in RSL's inability to maintain a pronounced possession advantage. Scrambled well defensively, but was frequently a step behind the play.
Jámison Olave (4.5) - Hard not to feel a bit bad for the big man. He put in a brave performance, but simply wasn't up to it physically. Once the Galaxy saw how labored he was, they went right at him in transition.
Robbie Russell (4) - Lost Magee at the back post for the game-winner and, like Wingert, wasn't able to figure hardly at all pushing into the attack and left a ton of room on the flanks.
Kyle Beckerman (6) - Rattled the post, won a bunch of second balls, but never really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck the way his opposite numbers did. Had a couple of dangerous turnovers as well.
Javier Morales (5) - Didn't find any room in his preferred left-center channel and ended up roaming all over the pitch looking for space to create. Had a few flashes, but nothing definitive.
Will Johnson (6.5) - Like the rest of RSL he had his issues with turnovers, but tracked back relentlessly and saved a goal in the second half. A real fighter's effort from the Canadian international.
Andy Williams (4) - His only contribution of note was going through Gonzalez's back to create the penalty. Looked a step slow — might have picked up an early knock that threw him off.
Fabián Espíndola (6.5) - Ugh, so nearly the hero so many times. Hit the bar spectacularly and fluffed a late one-on-one chance that could have made it 3-2. Great effort, but lacked the finish.
Álvaro Saborío (7) - A true poacher's goal in the first half, and then disappeared until the last 10 minutes. Once RSL started playing into his feet, they started creating chances again. They should remember that.
Ned Grabavoy (7) - Came on for Russell in the 70th minute. Tilted the game RSL's way, consistently finding Morales and Saborío in good spots.
Luis Gil (7) - Came on for Williams in the 75th minute. Popped up all over the attacking third and nearly grabbed himself a spectacular late goal.
Tony Beltran (6) - Came on for Olave in the 82nd minute. Battled on the flanks in his 10 minutes, and helped stop a couple of breakaways.
Jason Kreis (5.5) - Had to take a big chance on Olave, and it just didn't come off. Probably held his subs too late, as Grabavoy and Gil helped change the game and would have been useful 10 minutes earlier. In the end the loss was more about depth than anything else.