CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy head to Utah with a slight edge in their Western Conference Semifinal battle with Real Salt Lake after pulling out a 1-0 victory in Sunday evening's opening leg on a blistering Sean Franklin shot.
Franklin hit a 27-yard rocket with the outside of his right foot just two minutes into the second half, bending it into the netting inside the right post, hardly reward for LA's domination in front of a sell-out crowd of 27,000 at the StubHub Center, but enough to leave them needing only a draw in Thursday's second leg in Sandy, Utah, to advance to their fifth successive Conference Championship.
The Galaxy were on the front foot all night, finding space in RSL's defensive 4-2-3-1 formation and creating plenty of chances, but Robbie Keane's touch was off, which limited their effectiveness in the box but fueled the game's only goal.
Keane, attacking at the left post, turned and sent the ball into the middle of the box, but the ball was behind Landon Donovan and Robbie Rogers and rolled out of the box. Franklin, unmarked well behind the play, stepped up and blasted the ball, his first goal in more than five months.
The Galaxy, who lost on penalty kicks to RSL in the 2009 MLS Cup title game and beat the Utahns in the Western Championship two years later, have posted shutout wins in the openers of three previous MLS playoff series – against Seattle in 2010 and last year and against New York in 2011 – and advanced each time. Only in last year's Western Conference Championship with the Sounders were LA home for the first leg.
Real Salt Lake didn't create a lot out of their unfamiliar formation – they'd played in it just once during the regular season, in a mid-July in a victory over FC Dallas – but came close to scoring an equalizer three times. Franklin blocked a close-range shot by Sebastian Velasquez in the 67th minute, fellow second-half substitute Devon Sandoval was unable to get to a chip into the goalmouth from Luis Gil on the right after Chris Wingert's cross cleared LA's defense in the 80th, and Sandoval knocked the ball just past the right post while tightly marked in stoppage.
Left back Todd Dunivant returned to the Galaxy lineup after missing two games with a sprained knee. Neither forward Joao Plata nor defender Lovel Palmer, who suffered hamstring strains in the regular-season finale against Chivas USA, were available for Real Salt Lake.
The Galaxy had four good looks before Franklin tallied. Donovan fired past the right post after Gyasi Zardes split two defenders with a through ball into the box in the 12th minute, Keane fired at Nick Rimando after Donovan played him into space when Chris Schuler misheaded a flicked-on goal kick in the 19th, and Schuler came up with sliding stops to cut off dangerous balls for Keane in the 32nd, at the right post from Robbie Rogers, and for Donovan in the 42nd, from a return pass into the goalmouth from Keane.
Keane stumbled over or mishit the ball on three occasions, and he came closest to scoring in the 85th, when he fired past the left post on a breakaway.