It was anything but decisive. Halfway through their Western Conference Finals series against Seattle, LA clung to a shutout and settled for a single goal at home.
“Of all the results, that was probably the third best,” admitted Landon Donovan, afterward. “Two-zero or three-zero would have been second and first best. But, they had a few chances too, and keeping that team scoreless isn’t easy.”
“They had a few chances, and keeping that team scoreless isn’t easy.”
Seattle came in with a plan, and they stuck to it. For most of 90 minutes the Sounders hung back on defense, choosing to let their pair of strikers do all the offensive work themselves. But that’s not to say LA wasn’t feeling the heat — Obafemi Martins, in particular, had his way with the Galaxy’s back line, single-handedly dribbling through the lot more than once. The chemistry between Martins and Clint Dempsey lives up to the hype. The way they wove through LA’s defense was near telepathic.
Were it not for several great saves from keeper Jaime Penedo, LA would be in a hole. The chances Seattle found looked remarkably similar to chances Penedo’s whiffed recently — and Donovan, at least, couldn’t help but notice the irony: “At the end of the year, he gave up two to three goals that were relevantly similar in the way they were created,” he said. “He and Matt Reis, the goalkeeper coach, did a lot of work over the past two weeks on how to do better with those chances”
That work paid off. Penedo’s performance, coupled with LA’s edge in possession, saw the first half play out to a stalemate. The Galaxy found more chances, but Seattle’s focus on quick counters nearly paid off.
It was the kind of scoreless soccer that you can’t tear yourself away from. But at the end of 45 minutes, all either side had to show for their work were a couple yellow cards.
“A lot of the teams try to play wide, but they can’t necessarily get the ball up there. LA does a good job of that and definitely stretched us a little bit at times, but a lot of this season it’s been about bending and not breaking as a defense.”
—Zach Scott, defender, Seattle Sounders
Seven minutes into the second half, the Galaxy finally broke through. A.J. DeLaGarza found Marcelo Sarvas in a crowded box, and Sarvas didn’t hesitate to shoot.
Seattle’s keeper Stefan Frei picked the right direction — but when Sarvas’s shot deflected off one of the bodies in front of him, Frei was already committed to his dive. The shot sailed down the middle of an unguarded goal.
Sarvas was just one of a handful of LA players who put in standout showings. Robbie Rogers was phenomenal at left back — he played both ends of the field equally, and was involved in nearly every Galaxy attack in the first half. On the opposite side of the field, Stefan Ishizaki played a key part of LA’s offense. As Seattle pushed LA out wide, his pinpoint crosses kept the Galaxy dangerous.
That’s why it’s especially worrisome that Sarvas had to be subbed out in the 69th minute after going down with a leg injury. “In that play, I don’t know, I got hit in my muscle very close to the bone,” said Sarvas. “It was hard when I stepped on my left leg I felt the muscle pulling so I had to stop. I spoke with the doctor and I think we’re going to have to do an x-ray tomorrow.”
Although Marcelo doesn’t expect to miss the next game, his absence would be a major blow. But if Landon Donovan is worried, he’s not showing it:
“We are confident. We’ve been there twice this year. Thoroughly dominant in the first game, and we were the much better team for 82 minutes of the second game. We are full of confidence going there. We are going to get their best shot and we look forward to it.”