Carson, Calif. • It's the question that will linger for the entire offseason:
How much of a difference would a healthy Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers have made for Real Salt Lake in its season-ending 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Western Conference final at the Home Depot Center on Sunday night?
"Who knows?" defender Chris Wingert said.
But certainly, it's plausible to think that having both injured center backs on the field and fully fit would have reduced the chances of RSL making the crucial mistake that effectively cost them the game allowing the Galaxy's Mike Magee to score the second-half header that changed everything.
Magee ran free behind RSL's Robbie Russell and Chris Schuler to get his head on a cross from teammate David Beckham for a 2-1 lead in the 58th minute that forced RSL to throw everything forward in desperate search for an equalizer.
It was Magee's third straight playoff game with a goal, and it opened things up enough for the Galaxy to basically take target practice at RSL on counterattacks for the rest of the game. That allowed the Galaxy's Robbie Keane to add a 68th-minute insurance goal with a stunning cutback move against Olave.
"You want to learn from mistakes in previous games, and know when a player like David Beckham gets the ball, you have to be marked up," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "If you make mistakes in a game like this, they're going to cost you," Rimando said, "and that's what happened today."
Schuler was playing in place of Borchers, who stayed on the bench with a quadriceps injury. Olave also was recovering from a quadriceps injury but felt more comfortable trying to play, and coach Jason Kreis hoped to use him as long as possible before replacing him with Borchers.
The strategy didn't work out, though, once the Magee goal forced Kreis to make more offensive substitutions.
"We should have done a lot better defensively, in terms of marking up players in the box, clearances, simple things like that," Borchers said. "We could have done that a lot better. And they punished us for it, and they've been doing that all year."