The entire MLS season came down to last night. RSL vs LAG for the MLS Cup.
LA Galaxy were certainly the expected winner. They had a better record in their season, some really big star players, and had been pegged by many to win the cup even earlier in the year. But Real Salt Lake showed they wanted it bad. An impressive winning streak, knocked out top seed Columbus Crew, playing them twice, beat Chicago Fire for the Eastern Conference Finals after 90 minute game, 30 minutes of overtime and a penalty kick shoot off, they went on to beat LAG in the same fashion.
Both teams began the game playing extremely well. Careful to keep possession with tight passes and shots made the game very interesting and enjoyable to watch. Finally LAG got a goal in shortly before half time, RSL seemed to have been shaken up a bit and LAG seemed be be empowered. Coming into the 2nd half it remained very much the same way. LAG was pushing hard to secure a 2nd goal and to be honest, it looked like it was coming. It seemed they were exerting all of their energy to make it happen and it began to take its toll. Sloppy mistakes were popping up here and there and a lot of yellow cards and moments of aggression coming from the LA team. With the LA team starting to buckle it opened up an opportunity for RSL who tied up the game 1-1. Both teams played hard but warded off the others' offences until the end of regulation time.
Overtime was very much the same. Both teams played well, but you could tell they were getting tired. All it took was one mistake on either side, a moment of fatigue, but neither buckled. Overrtime concluded, still 1-1 and was now to be determined by penalty kicks.
RSL I think knew they had an advantage taking it into penalty kicks. LAG keeper had actually been injured in his hand previously in the game and was forced to be sub'd out. RSL's keeper had just been through a winning shootout the week before. They had the routine and the keeper to do it. Although LAG does have some star point makers on their team, Beckham and Donovan of course.
Let me tell you, it was an intense shoot out. Everything was on the line these players were exhausted and it came down to every shot. They went through their first 5 shots and still the board was tied. The mood was up and down like a fast moving roller coaster as each player shot and either missed or made the shot. 2 shots into the second round of penalty kicks RSL put in just one more than LAG which won them the MLS Cup.
I have to admit I would have been happy with either team. I would have liked to have seen LA take it because I knew they had had a better season than RSL. In my opinion they had played better consistantly and I think that deserves something. Plus LAG has some of the iconic star players that the media and people outside of soccer follow. I think if they would have won it would have been bigger in promoting the MLS as a whole. However who doesn't like an underdog story? This is RSL's first MLS Cup with one of the youngest coaches in MLS history and a team that essentially went from last years last, to first.
There is no question that RSL deserved this win. It's one thing to win a fluke match against a better team. But to play the top seed twice and beat them, knock out the next team in a conference championship, then go on to outlast the big stars and favorite team LA Galaxy, that's no fluke. To win or tie every playoff game is not a fluke. They wanted that cup and played every second for it until that double whistle was blown.
So congratulations to Real Salt Lake for the end of a great season. I'm glad I was able to watch them in person earlier this year and happy for them. I'm sad for LAG, I"m happy I got to see them play as well, and that's probably the end of the Beckham/Donovan era, as rumors are flying how neither of them may be here next year. But still I'm excited for them and will be following them certainly in whatever they choose to do next. I'm already looking forward to next year. It's sad to think It will be that long until I can head out to Foxboro again.