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Galaxy knock off Sounders in close fight to set up tremendous second leg

The Los Angeles Galaxy won the first leg of their playoff series with a narrow 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders.

Courtesy of a deflected Marcelo Sarvas shot from the top of the penalty area, the LA Galaxy defeated the Seattle Sounders, 1-0, on Sunday. The Galaxy takes that one-goal lead into the return leg a week later with a chance to host the MLS Cup final on the line.

A back-and-forth match in the first half gave way to a Galaxy-dominated second, especially after the goal fell in the 52nd minute. LA realized a second goal would make life easier in the next match, while Seattle also understood that the minimal deficit wouldn’t be tragic heading home for a second 90 minutes.

Despite pressing late on, the Galaxy couldn’t double its lead. Neither could the Sounders score a crucial away goal as they did in their first 2014 playoff series against FC Dallas, meaning the only score in Seattle that could cause extra time would be another 1-0 home win.

Here are three thoughts on the Galaxy’s narrow win over Seattle in the first leg, with the second taking place Nov. 30 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. The Sounders knew they had to give themselves a chance in the home game, which they did

Unlike in the penultimate match of the regular season at the StubHub Center, in which LA took a 2-0 lead but Seattle ended up tying, the Sounders didn’t press much after conceding early in the second half. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were the only attacking threats, while the eight other field players tasked with keeping the score at 1-0.

At the same time, the Galaxy showed no signs of slowing down. In the celebration pile-up immediately following Sarvas’ goal, Robbie Keane whistled for his teammates’ attention and pointed to his head, reminding the LA players to stay focused on the task at hand. They did, continuing to get forward and throwing numbers into dangerous areas, but the Seattle defense held strong.

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2. The Galaxy tried too many crosses against a resilient Sounders defense

LA attempted 31 crosses to Seattle’s 12 throughout the match, illustrating its reliance on service into the penalty area. The Galaxy connected just 11 of those attempts. Finally, when Gyasi Zardes drove down the right flank on the goal-scoring play, Sarvas pulled off the Seattle back line and into the space on top of the center backs.

Sarvas had space to take down the cutback ball and shoot from the top of the penalty area before a deflection carried it past Stefan Frei. But instead of learning from that opportunity, LA reverted to lumping balls into the mixer, and it failed to get another clean look at goal until a central combination in stoppage time that Alan Gordon couldn’t put away.

3. This match was controlled, but play in the MLS playoffs has been chaotic

The players projected their frustration toward referee Kevin Stott after two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes and two more by the end of the half, but that resulted directly from both sets of players’ lack of control. Nerves and excitement are natural in big matches, but for overall quality considerations, it would be better if teams were prepared to play with their heads as well as their hearts from the first whistle.

Both matches on Sunday suffered from a collective rush of blood, but it was worse in the early game. In the second match, the tempo slowed in the second half as Seattle decided to lock up the defensive end. However, that lack of headiness permeated LA’s inability to create quality scoring opportunities for the time remaining after its goal.