The loss to the Galaxy "for me, was a microcosm of the season," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "We had our disappointments; we had some moments of brilliance; we had some moments of averageness. So we are up, down, middle, but one thing that never changes is that our guys fought and fought and fought.
"Even when they are down two goals, they are fighting. There is no quit in our guys, and I'm extremely proud of what they did in this game and more proud of what they did in the season."
In the end, RSL's masterful 3-0 victory against the Seattle Sounders to open the playoffs was the final bright flash of a light bulb about to burn out. The Sounders dominated Real in the second leg of the conference semifinals.
And RSL did put together a competitive first half Sunday, taking a 1-1 game into intermission. And there were chances that went unrewarded. Kyle Beckerman hit the post to end the first half, and Fabian Espindola smacked the woodwork again moments after Los Angeles took a 2-1 lead.
"We didn't play our best game," RSL midfielder Javier Morales said. "It was a close game. We tried to find a way to gain an advantage, but we couldn't find it. The Galaxy took advantage of the chances they had in the second half, and we were playing with desperation to find a goal to tie the game. We knew it was the only thing we had left, and we were careless in the back and they took advantage of their chances."
Said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena: "Salt Lake threw an awful lot into the game. We thought as the game slowed down it would favor us. They had a fabulous effort the first half. I thought they threw an awful lot into the game, and we told our guys … when this game slows down it will favor us.
"Some of the passing we had to get behind and create some chances. It was terrific. The game settled down, slowed down. We took advantage of it."
An unmarked Mike Magee put the Galaxy in front with a decisive header from a David Beckham cross in the 58th minute. Then Donovan connected with Robbie Keane in the 68th minute for the final blow.
As has been the case for most of the season, RSL played without its full No. 1 lineup. Center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave were injured during the first Seattle game. Borchers sat again. And while Olave played, he was clearly hobbled.
"We knew obviously that [RSL midfielder Chris] Schuler was the guy that hasn't played, Borchers was out and Olave was carrying a knock," Magee said. "We could have done a much better job finding Robbie early on, but yeah, we were definitely trying to test them early on."
Said Kreis: "Nat felt a little hesitant about playing, so we chose to go with Olave. The plan was to push Jamison as long as we could. His big question mark was how long his muscle would last before just fatiguing beyond the point of being able to help. The plan was for Jamison to go as long as he could and then bring in Borchers for him.
"Obviously, when you are down a goal and pressing for things you don't want to have to do that. That plan was, of course, made thinking positively that we would have a lead to protect."
It was a lead that never came.
Too many roadblocks
Real Salt Lake was game in Sunday's Western Conference championship game against the LA Galaxy, but injuries to defenders Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave, and the Galaxy's own determination was too much for RSL to overcome.