Opening night, 2014 — the LA Galaxy came out hungry but they left hungrier. When you can’t squeeze a goal out of nearly 45 straight minutes of possession, you’re in trouble. On the strength of goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s banner performance, Real Salt Lake rode out relentless pressure to steal a goal off a defensive brain-freeze in the 80th minute. Stop me if you’ve heard this one — Los Angeles didn’t make good on their chances, and they paid for it late in the game.

“Missed opportunities in the first half certainly cost us the game. There is no question about that. With the chances we had we could have killed the game off, but we didn’t — and we let them get back into the game.”
—Robbie Keane

Let’s talk positives.

Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane were fireworks right out of the gate, putting RSL on their heels with smart footwork and better combinations than we saw in the whole first third of 2013. They looked good — good enough, I think, to secure that starting spot for Zardes.

But his competition’s no slouch either. Stefan Ishizaki saw twenty minutes on the field and did his best to lay to rest any complaints about his fitness — I didn’t see the Swede stop running until the final whistle. He fired off a rocket of a shot from distance, nearly beating Rimando to the bottom left corner. Ishizaki’s look of exasperation after the save was priceless.

“I actually thought that my long shot was going in. It made an awkward bounce just in front of the keeper and I thought it was going to bounce over his hands, but unfortunately he got a touch on it.”
—Stefan Ishizaki

Juninho made good on his preseason promise to take more chances by firing-off the first shot of the year. And while Samuel took a while to wake up, his ability to be dangerous on his own drew defenders away from Keane and made for rare breathing room for the captain.

Donovan had an off-night — although an off-night for Landon is still a dangerous one for his opponents. Too many plays ended at his feet with a fumbled first touch, and his crosses found more RSL bodies than not. But placing Donovan on the wing created chances and stretched Salt Lake’s defense. The strategy, at least, shines through a subpar performance.

In the second half RSL cranked up the pressure — and at the 80th minute, it paid off. In midst of a total defensive meltdown Joao Plata found himself unmarked in front of LA’s goal. I’m not sure A.J. DeLaGarza even knew he was there before he had the ball. Jaime Penedo had a good night, but even he had no chance at point-blank range.

In a game where LA put up 20 shots at goal — compared to eight from RSL — it was Salt Lake who made one count. Those are tough stats to swallow. I think Landon put it best:

“Soccer is a cruel game sometimes and we got judged on results. I think we can be happy with how we played, but at the end of the day we have to score…”
—Landon Donovan

Putting aside the egos on the line in a season opener at home, there’s another reason LA’s loss was a tough one to swallow: the team played a phenomenal game, looking for all the world like a revitalized, retooled, cutthroat version of their former Cup-winning selves. The flurry of volleys the Galaxy put on goal in the first half felt nearly as good as a real goal would’ve — surely that string of well put-together attempts should count for something.

But it wasn’t to be. Nick Rimando was having himself a game, and after tonight it’d be hard to argue he’s anything other than the best goalkeeper in the league. When you can stonewall Donovan on a close-range breakaway, or snuff out a PK attempt from Robbie Keane — Keane, who doesn’t miss these things — well, I’m just not sure what type of team it’d take to put up a win against that.

Unbelievable. He was controlling the ball, didn’t give up rebounds, was unbelievable in the air. This is not an easy team to play against when they are getting service into the box and then obviously the penalty kick save was amazing, but that is Nick, he is that guy.
—Jeff Cassar, RSL Head Coach

LA fans will have to console themselves with the bright spots — a beautiful display of newfound confidence by Zardes, a shot on goal from just about everyone on the offensive line, and the knowledge that given six inches here or there, the night could’ve ended as it began:

With promise.

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