By Brian Kowalski
Carson, Calif. -- The 2016 MLS season has been an intriguing one for the LA Galaxy. New additions Giovani dos Santos, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and others, have had their good and bad moments.
Dos Santos is one of the leading scorers in the league with 14 goals, and defense from Ashley Cole and Jeff Larentowicz has been solid. However, Nigel de Jong was constantly suspended and ultimately left the team, and Steven Gerrard has been injured.
Fortunately, the Galaxy’s season got an unbelieavable jolt in the final months, after injuries to Gyasi Zardes, Robbie Keane, and Steven Gerrard, when Landon Donovan emerged from retirement and returned to the sport, providing LA with the chance to win another title.
After earning the third best record in the Western Conference, the Galaxy were stuck with a play-in game to move to the next round under yet another new MLS playoff format. On Wednesday night, LA hosted long-time nemesis Real Salt Lake with the winner facing Colorado in the semifinals.
LA came out playing hard and got an early goal in the 14th minute when Donovan crossed to dos Santos, who headed it towards goal. Alan Gordon rose to the occasion and scored on a volley for a 1-0 Galaxy lead.
However, in the 21st minute, Real Salt Lake got an equalizer when a questionable penalty was called by head referee Alan Kelly on Emmanuel Boateng in the box. Joao Plata converted the penalty kick past Brian Rowe to tie the game.
The call and goal seemed to ignite Emmanuel Boateng, as he almost single-handedly took on Salt Lake for the rest of the first half. In the 26th minute, Gordon passed to Boateng at the top of the box. Boateng kept control of the ball as he fought through five Real Salt Lake defenders and scored with his left foot for a 2-1 lead.
Then, in the 34th minute, Alan Gordon passed to Boateng again, and Boateng beat his man on the wing and then shot past Nick Rimando for a 3-1 lead, and an emphatic response to the earlier penalty kick.
The second half opened with the same core of players for the LA Galaxy with the likes of Keane, AJ DeLaGarza, and Mike Magee on the bench. In the 52nd minute, following a knock to Alan Gordon, Keane subbed in for LA.
The Galaxy controlled the ball for large periods of the remainder of the match and Real Salt Lake had a few opportunities to score, but one of those chances included a shot that hit the crossbar with minutes to go. The playoff game would end in a 3-1 win for LA.
The match marked Gordon’s second career postseason goal in his first career postseason start. In addition, Giovani dos Santos recorded his second career postseason assist, and Landon Donovan earned the record for MLS postseason assists with 15. He was previously tied with former Galaxy player Mauricio Cienfuegos with 14. The Galaxy’s eight-straight postseason appearances is the second-longest streak in MLS history.
After the game, Arena was impressed with the overall effort of his starters. “I think that’s a team we’ve been playing with over the last two or three weeks, getting them ready for the playoffs,” he said. “They’ve been training together, they know each other and their responsibilities, and they played in a very cohesive manner. This is the best collective effort we’ve had in a while. I was pleased.”
The LA Galaxy will now host Colorado on Sunday at the Stubhub Center for Game 1 of the Western Semifinals.