Analysis

Real Salt Lake 3, LA Galaxy 3: Three things from contenders' shootout at Rio Tinto

A playoff feel made LA's visit to Real Salt Lake on of the best games of the regular season. Scott French on a six-goal night in Sandy, Utah.

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Real Salt Lake twice rallied from deficits, the second a two-goal gulf, and pulled out a 3-3 draw with the visiting LA Galaxy on Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez's strike deep into stoppage in Wednesday night's Western Conference clash at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Giovani Dos Santos scored twice for LA (10-4-14), providing and extending a second-half lead after Joao Plata converted a penalty kick eight minutes after the break, but Plata tallied with a scorching shot in the 67th minute and fed Martinez for the winner, a rather soft goal, in the 94th.

The Galaxy, satisfied to sit and counter, was in command after Emmanuel Boateng's goal on a counterattack in the sixth minute, but it spent most of the second half on its heels as RSL sent waves of attackers forward and pumped balls into LA's box. Mistakes by goalkeeper Brian Rowe were decisive.

RSL (12-8-8) is second in the West with 44 points, seven behind FC Dallas (15-7-6), and LA leapfrogged Colorado (11-5-10) into third place, behind the Utahns on the games-won tiebreaker.

Three chief storylines from the draw:

Tale of two halves

The Galaxy dictated terms most of the first half. RSL was in charge after halftime. It made for an explosive clash of contrasting approaches in a big showdown that had the feel of a playoff game.

RSL held more than 70 percent possession and doubled, or better, LA's totals in pretty much every offensive category, but the Utahns struggled until the second half to penetrate a patient and organized LA defense that offered little space, cut off passing lanes, and denied adequate service, set pieces aside. The hosts’ frustration grew -- they were flagged offside five times in the first half, eight times for the game -- and LA took advantage, allowing RSL to do what it would with the ball out on the perimeter and countering when the opportunity arrived, as with Boateng's goal.

The closest RSL came to scoring in the first half was on a Chris Wingert header, on a put-back from Kyle Beckerman after a free kick, that sailed past the left post in the 41st minute.

Things had to change in the second half for Jeff Cassar's side, which was much more dynamic after the break. The Galaxy had prepared for the aerial onslaught, teaming 6-footer Daniel Steres with 6-foot-2 Leonardo, rather than 5-foot-9 A.J. DeLaGarza, in central defense, but RSL took control down the left flank, with Plata doing pretty much as he pleased against Rogers and Baggio Husidic while creator Javi Morales continually linked attackers in good spots.

The Galaxy counter was effective, providing a two-goal lead shortly after Plata's penalty kick in the 53rd minute, but it always seemed a matter of time before RSL would score again -- and Plata did, in the 67th, from a fine Movsisyan touch after a Morales cross -- and then find an equalizer. Cassar brought on Jordan Allen for Mulholland just before Dos Santos' second goal then went to a three-man backline in the 85th, when John Stertzer replaced right back Tony Beltran. The Utahns had LA under heavy assault for the final minutes.

Best of Gio

Dos Santos has been hit and miss all along with the Galaxy, capable of stunning play but with a tendency to disappear or take peripheral roles when he ought to be more aggressive. He was superb in difficult circumstances in Sandy.

There wasn't a lot of opportunity to surge ahead, given LA's defensive approach and RSL's unceasing possession, but when dos Santos found the time, space and circumstance, he made it count. He played a beautiful through ball under pressure for Boateng's goal at the start, found space between two defenders and finished clinically (off Nick Rimando's hand) to make it 2-1 in the 57th minute, then fired the rebound home off the right post in the 64th after Jeff Larentowicz twisted at the left post to put an Alan Gordon header off the bottom of the crossbar. It should have been enough.

The Mexican star was just as impressive defensively, tracking back three times in the first half-hour or so to make plays, then retreating to the byline to help Steres corral Morales late in the first half.

A goat for each side

Rowe will want to forget about this one. Jamison Olave might not be able to. Both cost their clubs points.

The Galaxy found Olave repeatedly out of position, and he was beaten on all three goals. He was caught forward and took the wrong line, toward the outside, as Boateng ran onto dos Santos' ball at the start. The diminutive Ghanaian winger had a good step on Olave, cut to his right as he got to the RSL box and fired inside the left post.

Husidic's ball for dos Santos on LA's second goal cleared Olave, who was then beaten on Lletget's arcing cross beyond the left post, which led to the third goal.

Olave was lucky to be on the field for the last two. He should have been red-carded -- and likely will face sanction -- for throwing a punch at Steres' head after they tangled leading to a RSL free kick in the 26th minute. Referee Chris Penso showed Olave yellow.

Rowe's errors -- as goalkeeper mistakes often are -- were more egregious, more debilitating, and he's probably a little bit embarrassed.

He gifted Plata's penalty kick by misplaying a bouncing, spiraling ball after Plata didn't make the best contact with a Morales cross, a ball Rowe easily could have grabbed. Instead, Rowe took it down with his foot, then tripped Plata, who had raced in to take it away. Plata's spot kick sailed over a diving Rowe, who might have stopped it had he had a hand up.

Martinez's winner, following 20 minutes of heavy pressure, was a real low point. The Argentine winger took a pass up the left flank from Plata, squared up with Robbie Rogers and cut inside, firing a low blast toward the far post. It got past Larentowicz and through a diving Rowe, who likely snags that shot 99 times out of 100. Maybe 98.

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Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.