California

LAFC Loses Heartbreaker to RSL, 3-2, in First Playoff Game in Team History

Walker Zimmerman scored an own-goal as Real Salt Lake defeated LAFC, 3-2, on Thursday night at Banc of California Stadium.

Maybe Clayton Kershaw brought them bad luck. 

The Dodgers star was on-hand for the first MLS Playoff game in Los Angeles Football Club history, but the squad lost on an own-goal by Walker Zimmerman, as Real Salt Lake defeated LAFC, 3-2, on Thursday night at Banc of California Stadium. 

The loss eliminated LAFC from the MLS Cup Playoffs in their inaugural season, as they expansion club fought til the better end, but couldn't find the equalizer against the veteran-laden squad from Utah.

"We built something special," said manager Bob Bradley of the season as a whole. "This season we had enough moments of enough really good football that the vision of what we want to be can be achieved."

LAFC put pressure on their opponents for most of the first half until Damir Kreilach put RSL on the board after a brilliant counter attack.

Right back, Brooks Lennon ran to the corner where he stopped, pivoted on the touch line, and sent a cross into the box to Kreilach who took the pass off his chest and buried it into the bottom left corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.

"It was a cross literally from the touch line. You can't give up goals like that," said Bradley of RSL's first goal. "At that point, I still felt our urgency and intensity and composure to keep playing was still there."

Unless you're the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it's rare for an expansion team in any sport to reach the postseason, let alone host a playoff match.

So LAFC found themselves in uncharted territory, not only playing in a playoff match in their inaugural season, but trailing by a goal against a plucky RSL squad.

LAFC leveled the score at 1-1 when Carlos Vela took a free kick from the right wing and blasted into the box, where center back Danilo Silva got his head on the ball just in front of the six-yard box for the equalizer. 

"Danilo didn't do well on the header, but he makes up for it with the goal there," added Bradley. "At that point we kept giving ourselves a chance to win."

Both teams went into halftime with 45 minutes of playoff action under their belts, but it was LAFC that seized the energy from the crowd and carried over their momentum into the second half, with the early go-ahead goal on a golazo by Christian Ramirez. 

Midfielder Lee Nguyen sent a through ball to Ramirez who sent an absolute stunner from outside the box into the top corner of the net to give LAFC their first lead at 2-1. 

"I was trying to make runs and create space for guys," said the So-Cal native Ramirez of his goal. "It took an own-goal and a wonder goal to take us out. That's how cruel this game is."

As RSL trailed, they were reminded of how they stumbled into the postseason to begin with. After a 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers in the final game of the season, RSL looked dead in the water until the LA Galaxy gave them a lifeline, losing at home to the Houston Dynamo in the season finale. 

"I didn't see LA losing that game," RSL head coach Mike Petke said. "I thought it was a one in a million chance. With the makeup of our team, we deserved to be in the playoffs and tonight I guess we proved it."

So with the full knowledge that they were playing with house money, RSL didn't shy away from the moment, rallying behind Kreilach one more time as he answered three minutes later with the equalizer. 

Kreilach did his best impression of Daniel LaRusso in Karate Kid as he "Crane Kicked" the goal from beyond the box for an amazing volley that tied the game at 2-2

"When this moment was the best option to do this, and luckily the ball was in the goal," said the Croatian striker. "Tonight was a great performance."

RSL took the lead on an own-goal by LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman. Forward Jefferson Savarino sent a shot on net from the right corner of the box that deflected off the face of Zimmerman and into the net for the heartbreaking difference maker. 

"It went off my face and into our goal," said Zimmerman. "I had no idea it was coming. I didn't really see much of it, and obviously it bounced the wrong way."

Despite the loss, the atmosphere inside Banc of California stadium was electric as supporters cheered non-step for their new team.

"The atmosphere in here every night is awesome," said Bradley of the stadium they call "The Banc." "They stand and sing from the beginning until the end. We have the best situation in the league."

The game was marred by some of those supporters however as fans threw cups of ice and beer onto the field at RSL players including goalkeeper Nick Rimando. 

Earlier in the season, the MLS and LAFC implored fans to stop the "puto" chant directed at the opposing keeper. Fans obliged throughout the season, but the defamatory chant returned for the playoff match.

"There was a really good discussion after the chant happened and that got taken care of immediately," said Bradley. "Tonight, some of that we don't need. Moving forward they know that we love them, we'll play for them, we will give our hearts to them, they will give our hearts to us, and we'll have to make sure it doesn't cross the line."

Real Salt Lake last won the MLS Cup in 2009, and Thursday marked their first playoff win since 2013. 

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