Three Thoughts: LA falls to Seattle, reaches MLS Cup final on aggregate
SEATTLE -- Landon Donovan’s career will finish with an MLS Cup final on his home field. His LA Galaxy won the MLS Western Conference final series -- tied 2-2 on aggregate -- on away goals over the Seattle Sounders, despite a 2-1 loss in front of 46,758 fans at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
After a slow start to the match, the Sounders scored two quick goals in the first half to take a two-goal lead. Brad Evans scored a tap-in from inside the six-yard box in the 26th minute, before Clint Dempsey benefited from a deflection in front of goal off Omar Gonzalez to double the lead in the 32nd.
The two strikes erased LA’s 1-0 advantage from its home leg a week ago and ensured there would be no extra time. However, the Galaxy got the one goal it needed to take the final series advantage. Juninho found the back of the net in the 54th minute, which set up a frantic final stretch.
Here are three thoughts on Seattle’s 2-1 second-leg win that pushed the Galaxy through to the MLS Cup final:
1. Donovan took a while to warm up his engine on a chilly Pacific Northwest night, but he played an important role in ensuring this wouldn’t be his last game.
He created two goal-scoring opportunities in the first half before whipping in the corner that Juninho smashed home for the Galaxy’s goal. It wasn’t the greatest service, curling away from his teammates the whole time, but it eventually found its mark. He also had the one-on-one that Frei saved moments later, as well as skinning Zach Scott down the left before Stefan Ishizaki’s header was also saved.
Even in the difficult moments before and immediately after his team went down 2-0, Donovan’s work rate didn’t drop. After Robbie Keane curled a half-cross, half-shot toward the back post in the 37th minute that nearly fell into Donovan’s path, Donovan yelled for his teammates to pick up their play. His off-ball movement remained sharp, and he slogged through another moment of adversity in a long career in any way he could to set up the home-field MLS Cup final he wanted to have as his final professional match.
2. Neither team looked settled at the start, but Seattle turned that around quickly midway through the first half.
DeAndre Yedlin’s run down the right side, in which he beat two defenders and cut back a cross on the ground into the six-yard box, in the 19th minute was the first real sign of life from the Sounders’ attack. Four minutes later, referee Jair Marrufo called a foul on the edge of the penalty area as Lamar Neagle was taken down, and three minutes after that, Evans opened the scoring. Seattle dominated the rest of the half.
The cold weather didn’t help the slow start -- it was the coldest game in Sounders playoff history -- as the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. As a result, the artificial playing surface in Seattle froze enough to make passing difficult and players’ footing precarious. Neither team held the ball for more than a few seconds at a time, and players were wary of injury, including Osvaldo Alonso reaching for his still-healing left hamstring that kept him out of the first leg.
3. Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei couldn’t do much on Juninho’s goal, but he kept his team in the game with a couple difficult saves shortly after conceding.
Two minutes after LA's goal, Landon Donovan streaked into the left side of the penalty area with the ball at his feet and slid a shot toward the back post that Frei managed to kick out. In the 65th minute, he shuffled quickly across his goal as Donovan crossed in from the left, and he did well to set his feet before reversing momentum to push Ishizaki’s header wide of the post in the direction from which he came.
On the other end, Jaime Penedo had a much more difficult time. On the first goal, he chased a loose ball off his line at half speed before Clint Dempsey crossed it back toward a now-empty net. The second goal took a deflection right in front after Gonzalez’s weak initial clearance with his right foot when he should have hit it with his left, but Dempsey’s shot still squeezed underneath the Panamanian goalkeeper before trickling over the line.