1. Real Salt Lake can neutralize the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The LA Galaxy were not as sharp as Real Salt Lake on the night. While the Galaxy led the league in chances created and pass completion percentage in the final third during the regular season, the Claret-and-Cobalt shut the Galaxy down in the first match of the postseason. The Galaxy did fairly well forcing RSL's diamond midfield to play wider and cutting down the through passes that RSL is so good at - with one exception.
What the away goals rule means for RSL
The MLS Playoffs are going to be, well, different this year. The league has implemented the "away goals rule" tiebreaker for the first time in league history.
In the 29th minute, Real Salt Lake pulled the left-side defense and midfield further up the field and then hit a ball over the top. The ball cut through the Galaxy backline to a sprinting Joao Plata. The Ecuadorian had a would-be breakaway that was pulled back by - let's be up-front about it - a horrible offside call. The replay showed, according to the cut of the grass, Plata was in line with Omar Gonzalez. That being said, Jamie Penedo had a great night, so there was no guarantee that Joao Plata would have beat the Panamanian goalkeeper.
In addition to their offensive prowess they demonstrated, Real Salt Lake cut their opponent's percent of completed pass in the attacking half by nearly 15 percent. The chemistry of the backline of RSL held the Galaxy to three shots with only one on target.
In short, the Claret-and-Cobalt demonstrated masterclass soccer that turned the LA Galaxy's attacking tactics on their face. Little noise was made from Gyasi Zardes, Landon Donovan, or Robbie Keane. At the same time, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho should get a tip of the hat from Real Salt Lake as they shut down anything through the midfield.
Real Salt Lake has a propensity to attack down the left-hand side and it did wonders against the Galaxy -especially the likes of Omar Gonzalez and Dan Gargan. Real Salt Lake was able to pin back the Galaxy's fullbacks, stopping their overlapping runs. In preparing for the second match of the Western Conference Semifinals, it is conceivable that RSL will rely on similar tactics used in the second half of the match on Saturday. If Real Salt Lake is able to pin back the defense and neutralizing the Galaxy's flat midfield like they did in this match, the LA Galaxy's attacking corps' chances on RSL's goals will be at a premium.
2. "The important thing is that we did not lose"
That is a direct quote from Landon Donovan after the match finished level. As such, it pretty much sums up the attitude of both teams after a match that could have easily been blown away but sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts of up to 70 mph. Yes it was a hard fought chess match but both teams have yet to deal even a check, let alone a season-ending checkmate.
There was no blood drawn on Saturday's match at Rio Tinto but that does not reflect what is to come in the second half of this confrontation back in LA. With both goalkeepers at the top of their game, it could come down to a simple and small mistake the ends one of the seasons of these two teams.
The season will draw to a close next Sunday, November 9, at StubHub Center and it has been set up for a dramatic, passion-filled finale.
3. Discussion Topic: PRO Referees
The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) is the organization responsible for managing the referee and assistant referee programs and assignments in the United States and Canada. The mission of this organization is to "increase the quality of officiating" in U.S. and Canadian professional leagues.
I know a lot of pressure has been put on PRO to create better referees in the past years and they have delivered in my book. Referees are more consistent, the only thing you can really demand of the officials. Mark Geiger is a perfect example of this - he is the American referee that officiated matches during the 2014 World Cup.
After watching the RSL match on Saturday night, however, I questioned several of the referee's decisions. Not being a league official or member of any of the MLS clubs, I am exempt from being fined by the league for criticizing the referees. At the same time, a goal for each side was pulled back - one I agreed with and the other I did not. The refs were consistent to their approach despite one horrible call against the home side.
My fears were realized again, however, when on Sunday I was left wondering as yet another linesman pulled back a play that the replay showed was clearly onsides (Dallas midfielder Escobar in the 34th minute). I was left questioning if the offside rule had been changed sometime in the last 48 hours.
Missed calls and bad officiating are always important but even more so during the postseason. Therefore, I think PRO needs to address these poor calls before the rest of the MLS Playoffs take place in order to not make the same mistake twice - well not for more than one weekend at least.
With all that said, what are your opinions of the referees from last night or just in general? How could they improve or are the criticisms of PRO unfounded? What do you think? Share your opinions in the comments section below