Sounders find themselves in huge playoff hole
TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) -- The lesson was supposed to have been learned a year ago, when one lapse during the MLS Cup playoffs and one extra goal did make all the difference for the Seattle Sounders.
Clearly, it wasn't.
"We found ourselves in the same exact situation right now so we didn't learn from anything," Seattle midfielder Brad Evans said.
For the second straight year, the Sounders go into a second-leg postseason home game facing a 3-0 deficit and knowing how unlikely it will be to advance. The Sounders face Los Angeles in the second leg of the Western Conference finals on Sunday night, with the winner possibly in line to host the MLS Cup final on Dec. 1 thanks to Houston's 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
There's a reason this feels so familiar to Seattle, and not in a good way. Last year, Seattle lost 3-0 to Real Salt Lake in a sloppy performance in the first leg of the conference semifinals. Seattle made a furious rally in the second leg, winning 2-0, but falling short in the aggregate.
Now Seattle finds itself back in the same circumstance.
"The only thing we learned from that game is you just have to bust it. You never know what is going to happen in a game and if you let down, let your guard down for one second, good teams are going to bite you and that's what happened again this past weekend," Evans said. "The only thing we can take from last year's game at home against Salt Lake is we played desperate, we played like a team with our backs up against the wall. That's it."
Seattle's problem in the first leg with Los Angeles was playing with a conservative approach and a massive defensive lapse at the wrong time. Seattle tried to control possession in the midfield and convert on whatever chances it could create.
Instead, it was the Galaxy with chances galore and converting their opportunities around Seattle's goal. Los Angeles scored twice in three minutes early in the second half and the Sounders were lucky not to be looking at a larger deficit coming home.
"They could have taken six or seven (goals)," Evans said.
In the return leg, Seattle knows it has to be aggressive and press for scoring chances, while also not giving up any more opportunities to the Galaxy, who could be the best team at launching quick counters with David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
"If we can keep Keane quiet and Donovan quiet, I think those two guys have a lot to do with their success lately, along with Beckham and Mike McGee. If we can keep those guys quiet we've got a really good chance of making this a reality," Seattle forward Eddie Johnson said.
Seattle is likely to have Johnson for a full 90 minutes on Sunday and get some minutes out of midfielder Mauro Rosales, who missed the first game with an injury. Johnson had the Sounders' first goal in a 4-0 rout of the Galaxy in Seattle in August.
If having a 4-0 win over the Galaxy isn't inspiration enough, they could look back about a decade.
In 2003, San Jose trailed Los Angeles 2-0 entering the second leg of the conference semifinals, only to give up two early goals and go down 4-0 on aggregate. Then came the most shocking rally in MLS playoff history, with the Earthquakes chipping away and eventually pulling even at 4-4 on aggregate with a goal in the 90th minute. San Jose completed the comeback when Rodrigo Faria scored in the sixth minute of extra time.
The coach of that Los Angeles team? Current Seattle coach Sigi Schmid.
"Obviously, in the ideal scenario you want to get a goal early. You want to get a goal in the first third of the game, at least, then try and get one again, then really be able to push forward in the second half. That's the ideal scenario, but that doesn't always happen for you," Schmid said. "The important thing is, like I said, not to go out and panic and say, `Oh geez, if we don't get a goal in the first 15-20 minutes of the game, it's all over,' or you open yourself up and you expose yourself."