This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Carson, Calif. • The concluding chapter of 2016 corresponded with the previous seven for Real Salt Lake. For the second time in three years, RSL trudged off the pitch inside the StubHub Center with another Major League Soccer campaign shattered. And nothing but an offseason filled with more question marks staring it directly in the face.
The late-season swoon that plagued No. 6-seeded RSL throughout the final two months of the season bled into Wednesday's first-round Western Conference knockout match against longtime rival L.A. Galaxy, the third seed, in Carson, Calif. Translation: RSL's postseason appearance lasted all of 72 hours.
The 3-1 loss in Southern California extended the winless streak to eight to close out 2016. A team that during the first week of September was vying for a top seed out West yet again saw the similar flaws exposed during a season that went wayward in September and October.
And RSL's postseason exit had an eerily similar feel.
"I think L.A. were the deserved winners," RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland said.
Only in this do-or-die matchup, the Galaxy's superstars didn't thrust themselves into the spotlight unlike the historic 5-0 semifinal trouncing of RSL in 2014. Instead it was the newfound attacking depth of L.A. that shined when summoned. Specifically, 22-year-old first-year midfielder Emmanuel Boateng.
The Ghanaian winger continued to terrorize RSL in 2016, scoring two first-half goals on L.A.'s way to another rout of RSL. In three matches during his rookie campaign against RSL this year, Boateng had four goals and two assists.
"He's given us problems all year," RSL defender Chris Wingert said, "and gave us more problems tonight."
His first goal of the night was one for the Galaxy's 2016 highlight reels. Five minutes after RSL pulled even with L.A. 1-1 in the 21st minute, Boateng sliced through five RSL defenders during a run that started outside the box and continued all the way to finishing by RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando with a left-footed toe-poke. Boateng curled in his second goal of the night by Rimando in the 34th minute after beating left back Demar Phillips and slipping a left-footed shot into the far post.
"You're in the playoffs now you have to have good games," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "You can't have holes. Our 1-v-1 defending was good enough tonight."
MLS veteran striker Alan Gordon, making his first career postseason start at 35, put L.A. up in the 14th minute. A cross from Landon Donovan was redirected by a header from midfielder Giovani dos Santos and over Rimando. The ball fell perfectly for an onrushing Gordon, who just had to tap it in.
"L.A. was more aggressive tonight in the way they defended, in the way they approached the game, and it took us too long to settle down," Cassar said. "They were operating at a speed that we weren't. It took us too long to get into the game."
RSL forward Joao Plata equalized from the penalty spot in the 21st minute after Boateng fouled midfielder Javier Morales a foot inside the L.A. penalty box. Plata buried his penalty into the roof of the corner despite L.A. goalkeeper Brian Rowe guessing correctly. The goal by Plata was the first from an RSL forward since the 3-3 draw against the Galaxy on Sept. 7.
The frustrations of a season lost boiled over in the second half. Forward Burrito Martinez refused to shake the hand of Cassar when he was substituted off in the 58th minute, animatedly showing he disagreed with the move.
"It was a game of transitions and I just felt that if we were getting back into shape, we weren't getting forward enough, if we were staying high enough, we weren't getting back to defend the right way, so I thought we weren't extremely great in transition," Cassar said when explaining his substitution of Martinez. "And to be fair, that could've been multiple people, right?"
What once seemed like a year in which upstart RSL could make a surprise run in the postseason fell flat in familiar fashion.
R L.A. midfielder Emmanuel Boateng scored two goals in the Galaxy's win.
• RSL forward Joao Plata scored a penalty in the 21st minute.
• RSL falls to 2-4-1 all-time in playoff history against L.A.