SANDY, Utah (AP) — Thrust into an underdog role once again, Real Salt Lake kept its season alive after receiving help from unlikely sources.
Sebastian Velasquez scored his first MLS goal in the first half, Chris Schuler added the winning goal in the first overtime and Salt Lake advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 2-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday night.
RSL won the series 2-1 on aggregate, reaching a conference final for the third time in five years and ending the Galaxy's bid for a third consecutive MLS Cup. They will host Portland in the first leg of the conference finals on Sunday. The Timbers advanced with a 5-3 aggregate win over Seattle in Thursday night's late game.
"11 players defended," RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "That's the big key. The way we play in our system, we need everybody to pitch in and defend and give the effort. Tonight, we did that. (Coach) Jason (Kreis) said we needed to do that and challenged a lot of us. The result today shows the challenge was met."
Salt Lake allowed just three shots on goal through 120 minutes and kept Los Angeles from mounting a serious scoring challenge for the bulk of the match.
"We all knew they were going to focus on Robbie (Keane) and myself, so it was incumbent upon the other guys to make some plays," Galaxy forward Landon Donovan said. "Robbie and I couldn't pull a rabbit out of a hat tonight, so we needed some other guys to step up and make plays. Unfortunately, it didn't happen so it made it difficult for everyone."
Salt Lake started out strong on the offensive end in the first half, mixing several nice passes with good ball movement to break down the Los Angeles defense. The Galaxy made it easier for Salt Lake to create some scoring chances by struggling to possess the ball and clear it.
RSL's efforts paid off in the 35th minute when Velasquez's goal tied it 1-1 on the aggregate. Chris Wingert sent a cross into Velasquez, who was unmarked just outside the top of the 6-yard box. Velasquez quickly made the Galaxy pay, sending a snap-header past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo for his first goal in an RSL uniform.
Velasquez earned the start in place of injured midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who sat out with a left hamstring strain.
"He's an extremely hungry player that has some real gifts," Kreis said. "Sometimes it's difficult to get some of those gifts to come out of him. Tonight, he took a major step forward."
Los Angeles had no answer on the other end. The Galaxy created eight shots before halftime, but did not put any on the frame. RSL had three shots on goal out of a total of six shots.
"The conditions were tough," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "But both teams have to play under those conditions. They played better than we did. They were very direct. They just played the ball behind us and put our backs under pressure and scrapped a lot."
Salt Lake stepped up its pressure after halftime.
Schuler sent a header into the crossbar in the 74th minute after Javier Morales crossed it to him off a corner kick. Then Alavro Saborio collected the ball outside the box in the 78th minute and blasted it to the left side, hitting the post.
RSL had its most painful near-miss during the 84th minute. Morales scored an apparent go-ahead goal when he sent a through ball on a free kick into the back of the net. A foul in the box away from the ball negated the scoring play.
Schuler came through in overtime. Latching onto a cross from Morales on a free kick in the 102nd minute, Schuler corralled the ball on a run to the back post and tapped it home just inside the post for his first MLS goal this season.
Salt Lake improved to 2-2-2 in second-leg matches in the MLS playoffs. RSL's previous second leg win came against Columbus in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals.