Surprise starter Alan Gordon joined 22-year-old Emmanuel Boateng in shredding the Real Salt Lake defense throughout the first half of LA Galaxy's 3-1 victory in Wednesday's Western Knockout Round match on the first day of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs at StubHub Center.
Real Salt Lake, mired in a vicious offensive slump – only two goals in their last six games entering the match – did push one past Brian Rowe, when Joao Plata sent a 21st-minute penalty kick past the diving Galaxy 'keeper to level the game.
But any joy was short-circuited by two spectacular individual runs – just nine minutes apart – from Boateng, who first split three defenders while traveling left-to-right across the box before sneaking an outside-of-the-foot shot past Rimando in the 26th minute. Boateng then blew by Demar Phillips along the right wing in the 34th minute before ripping one far post.
Gordon, making his first postseason start after a league-record 15 playoff substitute appearances, exited the game in the 52nd minute after going down with a non-contact injury. He was replaced by Robbie Keane, who is working his way back from an injury that kept him out of LA's previous two games. With the Galaxy solidly in control, Boateng exited for Mike Magee in the 76th minute.
LA advance to challenge the No. 2-seeded Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference Semifinals, hosting the first leg of the home-and-home series on Sunday.
- 14' – LA – Alan Gordon (Giovani dos Santos, Landon Donovan)
- 21' – RSL – Joao Plata (PK)
- 26' – LA – Emmanuel Boateng (Alan Gordon)
- 34' – LA – Emmanuel Boateng (Alan Gordon)
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- GORDO! It took 13 seasons and 16 postseason appearances for Alan Gordon to start an MLS playoff game:
Alan Gordon makes his first career playoff start tonight. At age 35. #MLSCupPlayoffs— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) October 27, 2016
It took 14 minutes for him to score. Another 12 for the eventual game-winning assist. A second nine after that. Per our own Research Baer, it was only the second time Gordon's posted a goal and two assists in a single game. He did exit with a hip injury, but LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano reports that everything seems to be kosher heading into Sunday's Semifinal.
- EMA OWNS RSL: Here's a stat:
Ema Boateng. Again. 3-1, L.A. Boateng has four career goals in MLS — all of which have come against RSL.— Chris Kamrani (@chriskamrani) October 27, 2016
Yikes. In case you forgot, that was a Player of the Week performance waaaay back on April 26. In case you also forgot, Boateng is 22. Also also, if he's this good the rest of the way … uh, maybe it's that time for the rest of the West.
- END OF AN ERA? After a quick exit in this fleeting return to the postseason, Real Salt Lake has some real questions to ask – whutup Jeff Cassar contract status – that mostly come down to variations of this:
If Beckerman & Morales go unprotected in the expansion draft (toss Rimando in there) do any of them get picked by ATL or MIN? Thoughts?— Jason Saghini (@JasonSaghini) October 27, 2016
Tough, tough calls to make whenever the timeline for your squad no longer matches that of the marquee players, who deserve honorable finishes to distinguished careers. But when the success starts to flag, the decisions don't have to come quickly, but they need to be clear and clean. Tick. Tick. Tick …