Sean Franklin scored on a dramatic 27-yard strike just after halftime, and the Los Angeles Galaxy opened their run at a third straight MLS championship with a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sunday night in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.
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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.
Los Angeles is trying to become the first MLS team to win three straight titles despite losing two key components of its previous championship teams: star midfielder David Beckham and goal-scorer Mike Magee.
Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane had numerous chances up front throughout the match, but repeatedly failed to provide an additional cushion for the Galaxy.
After a scoreless first half, Franklin thrilled the StubHub Center’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.
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 largely controlled possession against second-seeded Salt Lake in a matchup of franchises with three of the last four MLS titles between them. These clubs met in the MLS Cup final in 2009, with Real Salt Lake winning its only league title on penalty kicks.
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.
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.
Real Salt Lake had a four-game unbeaten streak and a lengthy break before entering the playoffs.
Real had its best chance in the 80th minute, but substitute forward Devon Sandoval fell down on contact with a Los Angeles defender while closing in on Luis Gil’s pass in front of the Galaxy goal.
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.