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Christmas in Los Angeles…In March

Los Angeles Galaxy opens their 2012 MLS title defense by gifting their rivals a victory, losing 3-1 to Real Salt Lake.

This weekend the 2012 Major League Soccer season kicks off here in the United States. This weekend also marks the beginning of the 2012 title defense for reigning Supporters Shield (most points earned in the regular season) and MLS Cup winners, the Los Angeles Galaxy.

It also marked the beginning of Christmas in March as the Galaxy gifted their rivals, the visiting Real Salt Lake, a season opening win at the hallowed ground known as The Home Depot Center. (Side note: this was the first loss at home for the Galaxy since November 14, 2010.)

False Expectations?

Fresh off their respectable away draw at Toronto F.C. in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals on Wednesday, the Galaxy had plenty of excuses to fall back on if they didn’t come out firing on all cylinders—hard fought match less than three full days ago on a very hard artificial turf playing surface; six hour flight home; jet lag due to the time zone difference, etc.

Yet, for most of the game, the Galaxy had the run of play, and when Edson Buddle headed home a beautiful in-swinging cross from David Beckham in the 71st minute, the Galaxy looked to have put their stamp on the fixture.

Meet Sean Franklin, AKA the Santa Claus of Avalon Boulevard

In all fairness, Sean Franklin, the left back for the Galaxy is actually one of the better players in the league. A former Rookie of the Year, Franklin was an integral part of one of the best defences in league history last year. However, tonight he quite frankly seemed out of sync, and even a bit lost.

Almost three minutes after the Galaxy scored to go up 1-0, Franklin gifted Real Salt Lake the equalizer by making a mess of clearing a harmless, even speculative cross into the box, deflecting the ball into the back of the Galaxy net.

But wait, Sean has more to give…

In the 80th minute, Franklin then managed to let former Galaxy player Ned Grabavoy slip behind him down the left flank. Unable to recover, Franklin couldn’t close down Grabavoy as he sent a ball into a crowd at the top of the goal box. Javier Morales, a heartwarming comeback story in his own right, managed to hammer home the go-ahead goal off of a deflection.

For good measure, RSL’s talented striker Fabian Espindola sealed the game in the 85th after shaking off a poor, awkward challenge by Galaxy center back A.J. De La Garza, and slotting home a well placed shot far-side.

So, what’s the real story of the game?

Credit where credit is due, Real Salt Lake proved their quality in not giving up tonight and capitalizing on the opportunities given to them, but in this writer’s humble opinion, the real story of the match was the manner in which the Galaxy offense shrunk the size of the goal they were attacking.

The Galaxy has probably the best midfield in the league and it was on display most of the night. Masterful playmaking from Landon Donovan (you know him, he’s the guy who every other year comes to Everton for a couple of months, plays lights out, tells Everton fans they’re the best, then comes back to the sun and surf of Southern California to work his real job) and David Beckham, along with new Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, resulted in no less than nine legitimate scoring chances by the Galaxy.

RSL only managed three. Donovan and Sarvas both managed to hit the crossbar as well in the first half, causing RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando to nominate his goal for Man of the Match.

Did Robbie Keane use up all of his goals for this season at Aston Villa?

Finally, in keeping with the “real story of the game,” this writer has to ask, does Robbie Keane have any more goals in him, or did he score them all on loan with Aston Villa?

Keane had his fair share of opportunities tonight, at least two of which were served up on a platter by Donovan and Sarvas respectively. Yet, Keane managed to make a meal of these two particular chances by taking extra touches that resulted in either a harmless off-balance shot, or a clean pick by the trailing defender.

Of his other legitimate shots on goal, they looked nice on take-off, only to either hit a defender, or slide harmlessly wide. No doubt he’s a positive presence in the box, and the fact he’s now paired up with an actual true goal scorer this season in Edson Buddle should result in offensive fireworks.

However, in his time with the Galaxy he has been less than productive in the one statistical category that all forwards are held in account—Goals Scored.

Final thoughts

Despite the result, and the uncharacteristic defensive lapses, the Galaxy still look like the class of the league. As good as Real Salt Lake is, they were outclassed for most of the night. Fortunately for the team and fans alike, there won’t be much time to dwell on tonight’s result, as the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal is on Wednesday night, with the Galaxy tied 2-2 on aggregate with Toronto F.C., but possessing two very important away goals.

About Timothy Ramage

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