Sean Franklin scored on a 27-yard strike just after halftime, and the Los Angeles Galaxy opened its effort to run at a third consecutive Major League Soccer title with a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Sunday night in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series in Carson, Calif.
The clubs head to Utah for the second leg Thursday.
Third-seeded Los Angeles hopes to become the first team to win three consecutive MLS Cups 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 they failed to provide an additional cushion for the Galaxy.
“We put a lot of pressure on them throughout the night, so there’s going to be some cracks,” Donovan said. “Robbie and I need to do a better job with our counterattacks. Usually we’re better than that. I have a feeling we’re going to have a lot more chances Thursday as the game goes on as they open up and expose themselves, and we’re fine with that.”
Franklin thrilled the StubHub Center’s sellout crowd in the 48th 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 hadn’t scored since May 26.
“The ball just came out on top of the box, and I had time and space to hit it,” Franklin said. “Once I opened my eyes up, the ball was in the back of the net.”
Jaime Penedo posted his fifth shutout in 10 MLS matches for the Galaxy.
Red Bulls 2, at Dynamo 2: Ricardo Clark and Omar Cummings scored in the second half, lifting Houston to a tie with top-seeded New York in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The second part is Wednesday at New York.
Cummings tied it in the 92nd minute when he tapped the ball in from just outside the net.
Tim Cahill put the Red Bulls ahead in the 22nd minute, and Eric Alexander made it 2-0 in the 32nd. But Clark scored in the 51st minute when New York was unable to clear the ball away, and he sent it through traffic and inside the near post. East semifinals
New York vs. Houston
Leg 2 — 5 p.m. Wednesday, Houston at New York; score tied, 2-2.
Sporting KC vs. New England
Leg 2 — 6 p.m. Wednesday, New England at Sporting KC; New England leads, 2-1.
Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles
Leg 2 — 6 p.m. Thursday, Los Angeles at Real Salt Lake, ESPN2; Los Angeles leads, 1-0.