Mike Magee and Robbie Keane scored unanswered goals in the second half to push the Galaxy to the championship, where they will meet the Houston Dynamo.
The Los Angeles Galaxy rode a strong second-half performance to a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference final. Landon Donovan and Alvaro Saborio struck in quickfire succession in the first half, but second-half goals from Mike Magee and Robbie Keane sent the Galaxy to their seventh MLS Cup final.
Los Angeles made one change to the lineup which defeated New York 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinal, with Juninho returning from suspension, replacing Chris Birchall. After sweating over the fitness of his first-choice central defensive pairing, Jason Kreis opted to start Jamison Olave, but kept Nat Borchers on the bench in favor of Chris Schuler.
Both teams struggled to deal with a crowded midfield early on, and accordingly, the best chances of the first half came from set pieces. Josh Saunders was able to make a point-blank save early on from a corner kick, while Javier Morales found an open Chris Schuler with a free kick in the 12th minute, only for the defender to head wide.
"It seemed like right from the get go there were chances," Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman said. "It could be late in the season, with back-to-back games like we’ve had could have an effect. I’m not too sure, but it seemed like for a fan watching it was fun to watch. "
As Los Angeles upped the tempo, it would find the first goal in the 23rd minute.
While Nick Rimando did well to get a solid one-handed punch to a David Beckham corner, the Galaxy were able corral the ball in midfield and serve it back in. Andy WIlliams shoved Omar Gonzalez as the defender was in the process of heading at goal, and referee Jorge Gonzalez pointed to the spot with no hesitation.
Donovan stepped up and converted the penalty, but the Galaxy could only hold on to the lead for two minutes.
Almost immediately after the restart, Jamison Olave headed an RSL corner back across goal, and Alvaro Saborio headed home.
"They had a fabulous effort in the first half, and then I’d like to say they had to chase the game but it didn’t take real long for them to get the equalizer," Bruce Arena said
Los Angeles would have the better opportunities for the rest of the first half, as Keane both struck the post and curled a shot just wide, though RSL also struck the woodwork as LA continued to struggle defending set pieces, and Beckerman saw his effort strike the post.
The Galaxy, typically strong in transition, had a golden chance early in the second half as Will Johnson gave away the ball in the opposition half to start a break, but the Canadian midfielder got back superbly to block Chad Barrett's header on goal in the 51st minute.
The home side would get its goal not long after, though, as Beckham served up a tantalizing cross to leave Magee with a free header. Rimando got a hand to it, but it was not enough to prevent Magee from netting in his third consecutive playoff game.
"I thought for the most part we did a good job [containing Beckham], but obviously he whipped in a great ball for that second goal and so, I guess not good enough," Beckerman explained.
Fabian Espindola replied almost immediately, as he used his agility to spin and fire a shot off the crossbar, and Salt Lake was unable to replicate its heroics after the Galaxy's first tally.
The miss came back to haunt Salt Lake 10 minutes after the team's first goal as Donovan won the ball in midfield and played Keane in behind a retreating RSL defense. After some maneuvering in the area, Keane found an inch of space and was able to fire across Rimando's body to make it 3-1.
"Some of the passing we had to get behind their defense was terrific," Arena said. "In my opinion the difference is the game slowed down a little bit and we took advantage of it."
Though RSL naturally ramped up the pressure with the clock winding down, it struggled to connect inside the Galaxy area. The home side nearly even struck again 10 minutes from time as Keane saw his effort roll just wide from a tight angle, though had to be cautious as Josh Saunders made two astute saves to quash any hopes of a comeback.
Los Angeles will now seek its third MLS crown on home turf on Nov. 20, where it will face another two-time MLS champion, the Houston Dynamo.