Sean Franklin's shot gives Galaxy win
CARSON, Calif. -- Although the Los Angeles Galaxy opened their MLS title defense with the result Landon Donovan wanted, he's hoping they don't regret their missed chances to make it even better.
Sean Franklin scored on a dramatic 27-yard strike just after halftime, and the Galaxy began their run at a third straight league championship with a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sunday night in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.
Franklin's first goal in more than five months provided a small advantage for the third-seeded Galaxy when the clubs head to Utah on Thursday for the second leg.
The Galaxy were good, dominating possession and effectively shuttering Real's attack, but they could have been even better. Donovan and Robbie Keane had numerous chances up front throughout the match, but repeatedly failed to provide additional cushion for the Galaxy.
"We put a lot of pressure on them throughout the night, so there's going to be some cracks," Donovan said. "Robbie and I need to do a better job with our counterattacks. Usually we're better than that. I have a feeling we're going to have a lot more chances Thursday as the game goes on as they open up and expose themselves, and we're fine with that."
Jaime Penedo posted his fifth shutout in 10 MLS matches for the Galaxy, who are in search of their league-record fifth MLS Cup title.
Los Angeles is trying to become the first MLS team to win three consecutive titles despite losing two key components of its previous championship teams: star midfielder David Beckham and goal-scorer Mike Magee. The Galaxy are in prime position to make that run, but a couple of extra goals would have helped from an otherwise one-sided game.
Keane barely missed a goal on a breakaway in the 85th minute, pushing a low shot just wide of the far post. The Irish international star scored 16 MLS goals for the second straight regular season.
"We certainly left a few chances out there, but we can't score every time," Keane said. "I wasn't connecting with the ball properly. You have nights like this. It's not something I'm going to lose any sleep over."
Salt Lake, which had a four-game unbeaten streak and a lengthy break before the playoffs, might have a sleepless night after an ineffective performance at StubHub Center. Los Angeles largely controlled the flow against second-seeded Salt Lake in a matchup of franchises with three of the last four MLS titles between them.
"On a different night, Keane and Donovan are going to kill you on those," Real coach Jason Kreis said. "We weren't good enough. We gave the ball away cheaply so many times in so many dangerous spots. ... Players need to be better. We're just missing some simple passes. Our better players need to be better, and they will."
Keane and Donovan both missed on impressive runs in the opening minutes, and Real's Chris Schuler slid in from behind to knock the ball off Donovan's foot at the goalmouth in the 42nd minute.
But Franklin thrilled the Galaxy's lively sellout crowd in the 47th minute when he collected an errant pass from Keane well outside the penalty area and put a rocket of a shot inside Nick Rimando's left post.
Franklin, a stalwart defender, hadn't scored since May 26.
"The ball just came out on top of the box, and I had time and space to hit it," Franklin said. "Once I opened my eyes up, the ball was in the back of the net."
Los Angeles entered the playoffs unbeaten in four straight games after allowing just one goal in its entire October schedule. The Galaxy have never lost in the two-leg conference semifinals since MLS adopted the playoff format in 2003, advancing eight times.
These clubs met in the MLS Cup final in 2009, with Real Salt Lake winning its only league title on penalty kicks.