SANDY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – On a night when one of the greatest players in Real Salt Lake history, Javier Morales, had his name placed into the rafters of Rio Tinto Stadium, one of the greatest players in MLS helped send the home team to defeat.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 80th minute, as the L.A. Galaxy clinched a playoff berth, while damaging Real Salt Lake’s hopes for a home playoff game, with a 2-1 victory.
With two games left in the regular season, RSL (14-13-5) stays in 5th place in the Western Conference, three points behind Seattle for 4th place and a home playoff game. RSL still had yet to officially clinch a playoff spot.
After a scoreless first half, in which the possession was dominated by RSL, Christian Pavon struck first for Los Angeles (16-13-3) in the 50th minute with a shot 17 yards out from the left side of the penalty box, assisted by Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic then found the back of the net in the 80th to give him 28 goals this season, two behind Carlos Vela’s league-leading 30 for LAFC.
“We came out of the locker room thinking that we had a good first half,” said RSL interim head coach Freddy Juarez. “The talk in the locker room was if we could up the tempo even a little more. 10-15 minutes there at the beginning of the second half, we didn’t do that. Tactically, they [LA] didn’t do anything, but they upped their tempo and we didn’t respond well.”
Nedum Onuoha scored for Real Salt Lake (14-13-5) in the 89th with a header 11 yards away from the center of the box, assisted by Sebastian Saucedo.
Real Salt Lake outshot the Galaxy 18 to 11, with five shots on goal to three for Los Angeles.
“It was a couple moments really,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. “I think we played decent, we actually played pretty well. The only thing we were missing was the goal to really change the game and get the extra momentum. It was just two moments that they put together to score, which really changed the game.”
“I don’t think overall, they really upped their performance in the second half,” Onuoha said. “We probably stepped off a little bit. We said at half time to really focus in on the first 15 of the second half, and we didn’t do it and it gave them a leg up. Especially with the players that they have in the attack, they only need a little bit of encouragement to really start having attempts on goal, which is what they did. Before we know it, we’re one down and then we’re two down.”
Los Angeles drew four corner kicks, committed nine fouls and was given two yellow cards. Real Salt Lake drew seven corner kicks, committed seven fouls and was given one yellow card.
Both teams next play Sunday. Real Salt Lake hosts Houston, and Los Angeles hosts Vancouver.
At halftime, Morales, who played 10 seasons with Real Salt Lake, scoring 49 goals and dishing out 81 assists, had his name placed into the rafters of Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think Javi was a massive player for us,” Beckerman said. “Not only on the field, but off the field, in the community, in this locker room. He was such a huge part of it. The consistency that he showed over the years, so I’m just so happy for him.”