LOS ANGELES – As Jefferson Savarino struck the ball with the outside of his right foot in the 69th minute in front of Banc of California Stadium’s raucous north end, few could have imagined that it would wind up as the last goal in LAFC’s groundbreaking expansion season.
What was Savarino doing? Was it a shot? Was it a cross?
Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke, for his part, had no idea — he just knew it went in.
“I had to ask two seconds before I walked in here, ‘Who scored the third goal?’” Petke said in his postgame press conference. “I don’t remember a thing. I was making tactical adjustments, we were looking to bring somebody on, and I saw the melee in front.”
The fact that Petke was too occupied with tactical adjustments to see the game-winner in his underdog side’s 3-2 victory Thursday night is indicative of not just the game — but the limbo the Utah club has been in since their last regular-season match on October 21 in Portland.
“We worked a lot over the last seven to 10 days because we had that extra rest, on how the game was going to unfold, how we wanted it to unfold,” the coach said. “This LAFC team that we beat tonight, is, for me, one of the best if not the best expansion teams. But if you [pretend] they’ve been in the league for 10 years, then my opinion wouldn’t change. They are one of the best teams in this league, player for player, coaching.”
Petke famously said after losing 3-0 to the Timbers that his side had a “one in a million” chance at the postseason, with the LA Galaxy heavy favorites to beat Houston on Decision Day presented by AT&T and claim the Western Conference’s final spot in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
Now his team have earned their own upset at the expense of the league’s other Southern California club.
“I’m frazzled right now, to be honest with you,” he said, wide-eyed, adding that LAFC’s 5-1 drubbing of Salt Lake in the second game of the season was “one of the most humiliating experiences as a coach.”
But after the third goal went in tonight?
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve had as a coach,” he said.
Prior to notching that winner, RSL had made the most of their limited chances —they were out-shot 21 to 4 on the night — with Damir Kreilach playing the hero via an incredible volley on their second goal.
“This moment was the best option to do this,” said Kreilach. “And luckily the ball was in the goal.”
Petke said the Croatian’s wonder strike meant more than just a goal to this teammates.
“The first goal boosted us and that second goal, even more,” the coach said. “What a beautifully taken goal that was from Damir. He’s one of the biggest leaders of this team since he’s been here, through his play, through his attitude.”
Petke was also complimentary of new center back Nedum Onuoha, who professed that the drama of the past few weeks has been a roller coaster for RSL – one that continues with Sunday’s Conference Semifinal first leg at home vs. Sporting KC.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Onuoha. “I’m too old for this. It’s too stressful. I think at halftime of the LA Galaxy game against Houston, everyone was writing us off. Obviously, it was out of our hands, but the way this league is, teams can always score and anything can happen.
“I wouldn’t say that we roared into the playoffs, but now we're here, I think we're going to be a force.”
Petke offered a similar message.
“We deserved to be in the playoffs,” he said, “and tonight, we proved it.”