SANDY, Utah – The LA Galaxy figured they'd battle on for another month, toward an unprecedented third straight MLS Cup championship, but they weren't particularly stunned when it ended abruptly Thursday night with a 2-0 extratime defeat at Real Salt Lake.
LA failed to reach the Western Conference Championship for the first time since Bruce Arena's 2009 rebuild, a disappointing but hardly perplexing close to an often difficult and frustrating campaign.
“I don't think anybody was expecting our season to be over tonight, but that's the reality,” left back Todd Dunivant told reporters in a subdued Galaxy locker room. “Salt Lake was going to bring the house at us, and they did, and they were the better team on the night. They were the first to every ball, they were more aggressive, they were taking more chances, they were defending – I mean, they beat us everywhere.”
This was a weaker side than the Galaxy fielded the past two years, especially with the departures of David Beckham and Mike Magee, and they put together successive league wins just four times and never won three in a row. They endured defensive troubles, especially on set pieces and at the end of games, and too often offered too little in attack when Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane weren't at their best.
“It wasn't a great season. It was just a solid season,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “A lot of things hurt us this season, from set pieces to – that was the main thing – that's something we need to figure out, and [on Thursday] that hurt us again. It was the story of our year, and it ended up biting us in the butt.”
Captain Robbie Keane called it a “stop-start kind of season,” one in which LA never built the kind of momentum that carried them through a tremendous 2011 campaign and a terrific finish last year after a horrid start.
“Just because you're the LA Galaxy,” he said, “doesn't mean that automatically you should be getting to the final, because it doesn't work like that.”
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Given the standard they've set the past few seasons, was this year a failure?
“It certainly falls below our standard of what we've had,” Dunivant said. “I wouldn't call it a failure. I think that's a bit harsh, but we put ourselves in good enough position, being in the top three [in the West], and then we had opportunities in this series to put the series out of reach, and we didn't do that. And then we didn't close out the game [Thursday] when we needed to.”
“Some big, exciting things ahead for us,” Dunivant said.
Just nothing big nor exciting this year.
“We envisioned ourselves to make history and have a chance to three-peat,” defender Sean Franklin said, "and on the day, we just weren't good enough."