Real Salt Lake season closes with a whimper in Carson

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

2016's improvement is overshadowed by the meek end to RSL's season. Scott French captures the mood after Wednesday's loss at StubHub.

CARSON, Calif. -- Real Salt Lake got off to a slow start in Wednesday night's Western Conference playoff opener, responded well to net an equalizer, then watched the LA Galaxy take command and pull away to a 3-1 decision and into the conference semifinals.

The Utahns had more of the game after the break but struggled to make what they needed from it, and that was that for a campaign that held great hope until everything started going wrong in the final two months.

Emmanuel Boateng carved up RSL's defense for two goals and Alan Gordon scored from a beautiful Landon Donovan cross that was nodded along by Giovani Dos Santos for an emphatic victory that didn't feel particularly one-sided to the vanquished.

“Just disappointed,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said afterward. “I thought we had good spirit coming into the game, and I thought we had a good chance, being the underdog. It just wasn't meant to be.”

It was the Utahns' eighth successive game without a victory as injuries, especially the heel ailment that slowed down striker Yura Movsisyan, and a lack of depth in key spots derailed what had been a solid season.

LA was sharp, moving the ball impeccably through the space between the midfield stripe and RSL's box, and the Utahns' defense wasn't good enough to deal with it.

“There was a lot of space, a lot of time [for LA to attack],” head coach Jeff Cassar noted to start his postgame news conference at StubHub Center. “We were actually in pretty good positions, but the tenacity in the defending needed to be there …

“LA was more aggressive tonight in the way they defended, in the way they approached the game, and it took us too long to settle down. They were operating at a speed that we weren't, and it took us too long to get into the game.”

LA was all over RSL from the start, went ahead in on Gordon's header in the 14th minute, then rebounded after João Plata's penalty kick -- following seven minutes of RSL pressure -- evened things. Boateng took over soon after, scoring superb goals eight minutes apart.

“When they push four players high on you, you have to defend 1v1 at times, and I don't think our defending 1v1 was very good …,” Cassar said. “When [Boateng is] able to beat Demar and then go straight to goal [for LA's third tally], that's unacceptable. You need to have cover, and I just don't think we did a good job.

“You're in the playoffs now, you have to have big games. You can't have holes, and our 1v1 defending wasn't good enough tonight.”

RSL was certainly better as the game progressed -- the Galaxy didn't put a shot on goal after Boateng's 34th-minute strike -- and Beckerman put a header off the crossbar during the late push, but it always seemed a task too big.

“LA looked fresher, looked more intense than we were,” Cassar said. “We were getting into some good spots. Whether it was poor execution or passing or just the way LA defended, it was much more intense. [Jelle] Van Damme, he's a fantastic, fantastic defender. Their whole backline was very good, but he's a difference-maker.”

The late-season skid informed the Utahns' play.

“When you're not scoring, you lose a little bit of confidence, and you start wondering if the stuff you're doing is right, and you start questioning ...,” Cassar said. “The last five, six, seven games just really, at the end of the day, weren't quite good enough …

“We went against a team that was hungrier, fresher. They wanted it more, and they got it.”

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