November 19, 2012

SEATTLE -- The L.A. Galaxy weathered all kinds of storms Sunday evening.

With the Pacific Northwest's liquid weather pummeling the pitch at Century Link Field, turning it into "ice" -- according to midfielder David Beckham -- the Galaxy also had to hold off Eddie Johnson, Zach Scott and the rest of the Sounders in the second leg of the Western Conference final to earn a return trip to MLS Cup.

With a 3-0 aggregate lead coming into Sunday, L.A. simply needed to handle the expected Seattle attack amidst a sea of 44,575 neon green rain-parka-clad supporters to give Cup fans some déjà vu with a return trip to the final against Houston in Carson City, Calif., a replay of the 2011 final that L.A. won 1-0.

L.A. got wet, both figuratively and literally, throughout, but survived a 2-1 game loss to advance to the Dec. 1 final with a 4-2 aggregate victory.

"I don't think anyone would have predicted this," L.A. forward Robbie Keane says about the final. "It is amazing to have the same teams in the same exact stadium."

In last week's first leg, Seattle was clumsy in creating offensive chances and sloppy on defense, allowing L.A. three series-defining goals. L.A. was the tentative-looking team in Seattle. With Johnson back up top with Fredy Montero, the Galaxy bided time until the 90 minutes faded away.

The Seattle attack provided the ruckus crowd excitement first when Johnson scored an apparent early goal disallowed because of offsides, but followed it up just one minute later -- in the 12th -- with a left-footed strike off a Zach Scott pass. Scott used his head nicely in the 57th minute, off a corner from Christian Tiffert, to pull Seattle within one goal of aggregate life and give the Sounders faithful more reason to scream. But a handball in the box on Seattle's Adam Johansson resulted in Keane being awarded a penalty kick, which he calmly converted in the 68th minute, providing L.A. a needed cushion.

With Edson Buddle replacing Landon Donovan (out due to a hamstring injury sustained in the waning minutes of the first leg), the Keane penalty kick was still the bulk of the attack for L.A. Offense simply wasn't a high priority. And it wasn't on display, either.

It will needed to be in two weeks.

Houston, the East's No. 5 seed, scored eight goals in five playoff contests in by sweeping past Chicago, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United.

L.A., the West's No. 4 seed, is on a similar run, collecting nine goal in five games while ousting Vancouver, top-seeded San Jose and Seattle.

The Galaxy, mired in last place in the West before starting to patch together a run that propelled them into the wild card playoff game, came into the playoffs in circa 2011 form.

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arenas said the media had his team "dead" after 14 games, allowing the team to get itself going again and string together 34 points in 17 games "quietly."

"You have to give our guys a lot of credit from where we were to where we are now," said Donovan, who would have played tonight had it been the final. "It is pretty impressive."

Arenas said the team simply started playing better to go on its run, but Donovan and Keane said once the expectation level dropped, so did the pressure. "After the first few months of the season, there was zero expectations," Donovan said. "It was a fight (after that)."

Keane admits it was clear they weren't playing together as a cohesive unit early on in the team's quest to become the first to repeat as MLS champions since the Dynamo in 2006-2007 -- something that required a wake-up call, according to Beckham.

"It just wasn't us in the first half of the season," Beckham said. "Whether it was a hangover still from the championship year or just laziness, we realized we had to get our backsides going or we were never getting near any kind of playoff position."

With the MLS' new system of awarding home field for the single-game finale to the finalist with the best regular-season record, the 2012 final looks a lot like 2011. It took a lot of scenarios to give L.A. the best record heading into the final, but now Galaxy fans have a chance to attend the potential final Donovan-Beckham MLS contest.

"I still find it strange we are at home in the finals," Beckham said. "It is very strange. But obviously it is nice to be at home, especially it being a MLS final it is extra special."

Plus, as Arenas said, they can hope for better weather.

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