A moment later – or two, as it played out – and that was over.
Idle Real Salt Lake claimed the Western Conference's final berth in the postseason on Sunday afternoon when the Galaxy (13-12-9) failed to hold onto a two-goal advantage, watching it slip away as the Dynamo's sizzling attackers took over after halftime en route to a 3-2 decision that left the home side in ruins.
“It's devastating,” forward Ola Kamara, who provided the Galaxy's lead with strikes in the 27th and 30th minutes, said in a subdued locker room afterward. “I really believed we were going in the playoffs, and you see it fade away. It's tough.”
The Galaxy went 3-0-1 down the stretch and needed one more victory to vault past RSL, and their first-half performance was worthy of their aim. They couldn't sustain it after the break and will miss the postseason for the second straight season.
“We're all devastated, to say the least,” midfielder Sebastian Lletget said. “We can't allow that to happen. I know we're 2-0 up, and we're mature enough and we have the players to kill this game off. We have only to blame ourselves.
“It has been a roller coaster this whole season, but I thought we did such a good job to get back into the [race], and I thought if we got through this game, nobody was going to stop us. It's a real shame.”
LAFC's loss at Sporting Kansas City left the expansion side third, and had LA advanced, they would have met their crosstown rivals in the Knockout Round of the playoffs. That, interim head coach Dominic Kinnear said, “just makes it a little bit more hurtful.”
Kinnear admitted he was “a bit empty right now.”
“We were a little complacent [in the second half], our passing became shorter and a little bit negative at times, but we still had chances,” he said. “I think we put a lot into it [before halftime]. You'd love to see the same energy coming out in the second half, but we didn't do that.
“Our possession in the first half kept them away from our goal, and our lack of possession in the second half brought them a little bit closer to our goal. You wish you could kind of take a timeout every now and again and get the guys together, but, obviously, you can't do that in this game.”
Houston were the protagonists from the start of the second half, and Quioto's goal “kind of killed us,” captain Ashley Cole said. “We lost our confidence, and we stopped playing. We stopped doing the things we did in the first half to get the two goals, and then they heads just dropped, and that was it.”
LA were still in position to advance, but in the 72nd minute Romain Alessandrini, looking to clear a ball from his team’s penalty box, rammed his foot into former Galaxy defender AJ DeLaGarza's gut, and referee Kevin Stott pointed to the penalty spot.
Manotas converted, and RSL moved into position to advance.
“It's a big mistake. I'm very sad about that,” Alessandrini said. “After, I try the best that I can to come back in the game and make some good cross[es] and finish the play, but it's difficult for me tonight. I just want to say sorry for the fans, sorry for the team. But I think in the second half, we did the bad game, and that's why we lost this game, too.”
The Galaxy pushed forward, and the Dynamo caught them on the counter to make it 3-2. And LA could not recover.
“We we went two up,” Cole said, “we probably had [the thought that we were going to the playoffs] in the back of our minds, that they've got nothing to play for, it's already won. But you can't do that in football. The first goal hit us hard, and then they played their game on the counter and punished us. We just weren't good enough today.”