If there was ever a season defining match for a club, it would be the one played between LAFC and Real Salt Lake this past Thursday Nov. 1.
Due to inability of LAFC to close out their previous match against Sporting Kansas City, in which a win or a draw would have seen them finish atop their group and bypass the need for a wildcard type game, the team had to play in an elimination match. A match which did not go their way. The ideal result evaded the Black and Gold as they fell to a 10-man Sporting Kansas City, forcing the team to play a must-win game against Real Salt Lake, a team who fell into a bit of luck themselves.
Real Salt Lake were the beneficiaries of a complete defensive meltdown on the part of LAFC’s neighbor’s the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy were up 2-0 at halftime against the Houston Dynamo in their must-win match to have a chance at the playoffs. Houston however, had other ideas, coming back to score 3 unanswered goals, ending the Galaxy’s 2018 playoff ambitions. With Houston, already a statistical outlier and playoff unconcern, Real Salt Lake swooped into position to take on LAFC instead of the Galaxy.
In many ways, this was the perfect setup for LAFC. To face a team in RSL that was lucky to even be there and a team they had fared better against compared to the Galaxy. One oversight and one thing not being taken into account was the fact that Real Salt Lake had nothing to lose and LAFC everything to lose. Real Salt Lake had zero pressure on their shoulders as the odd ones out and played to that narrative in stride. LAFC had everything to lose and it appeared as such as the pressure looked too much to bare.
Real Salt Lake struck first in the 21st minute when Damir Kreilach chested a ball down and struck a nice shot on the half volley past a diving Tyler Miller to put RSL up 1-0.
LAFC responded 10 minutes later on a free kick, which saw Danilo Silva head a ball from Carlos Vela to tie the game at 1-1.
Both teams went into halftime tied 1-1 and it was obvious some changes needed to be made, the obvious one being substituting Christian Ramirez for Adama Diomande (who has had trouble getting back into form since his injury).
The substitution worked like magic, because in the 54th minute, Ramirez found some space at the top of Real Salt Lake’s box and launched a perfectly placed shot into the top left corner to put LAFC up 1-0.
The elation of the lead was short-lived for LAFC however. Just four minutes later in the 58th, RSL midfielder Damir Kreilach had something of his own to say that night, when a poor defensive clearance floated into his path, he took the crane position and karate kicked a goal placed to perfection, bouncing off the post and in behind Tyler Miller to tie the game at two apiece.
It all came crumbling down for LAF in the 69th minute, when a shot deflected off Walker Zimmerman and into his own goal, giving Real Salt Lake the lead.
For the rest of regulation. LAFC were relentless, incessantly trying to corrode RSL’s defense and find the equalizer, but it never came. Chance after chance could not be finished and the tension in the stadium grew to a painfully palpable crescendo when the referee blew his whistle to conclude the match.
The match was hard fought by both sides, but ultimately the match served as a microcosm of LAFC’s groundbreaking first season as a whole, with exciting elements of play that fans and casual stadium goers observed throughout the season. An electric offence and flowing midfield, marred by defensive insecurities, LAFC is a fun team to watch, but a hard team to watch at times. If they can fix some of their defensive qualms, LAFC is a team that will be a harrowing opponent to face going forward. For years to come
LAFC should be proud for all they accomplished this year, but there is much more to come for the league newcomers.