Landon Donovan will get his shot at a fairy tale ending.

By virtue of MLS’s new tiebreaker rule – the team with more goals scored while on the road gets the edge in a draw – the LA Galaxy are headed to the MLS Cup Final. On Sunday night Seattle won the game and lost the series, in a 2–1 nail biter that showcased some of the most thrilling football this league has to offer.

“When you play here, under these conditions, you know there’s going to be some sloppy play, there’s going to be some crazy chances, and possibly some crazy goals.” That was head coach Bruce Arena’s take after the game. It was 34 degrees at kick off in Century Link, a shocking setting for any team who trains in Southern California.

”Under these conditions you know there’s going to be some sloppy play, there’s going to be some crazy chances.”
—Bruce Arena

Maybe that’s why the Galaxy gave up two goals in the first half, coming within ten minutes of each other. Maybe — but that’s being generous. A more likely culprit is Seattle’s uncanny ability to break down defenses.

“We lacked concentration,” recalled Robbie Keane. “The 10 to 15 minutes after you just concede a goal is the most important and we weren’t focused and they killed us a little bit.”

The breakdown began with a brilliant show of back-and-forth short passes between Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. When Martins went down in the penalty box, the play could’ve been over — but Dempsey somehow got to the ball, stepped over a lunging Jaime Penedo, and sent a sharp pass across the goalmouth to a surging Brad Evans. Evans buried the ball in an empty net, and in the 26th minute the Sounders went up 1-nil.

What followed were a hectic few minutes for LA. The Galaxy had lost their nerve and Seattle had found it — and just six minutes later the home team nabbed a second.

This time it was DeAndre Yedlin who sent in a quick cross, but Omar Gonzalez managed to knock it out of the box. Unfortunately it landed at the feet of Clint Dempsey, who wasted no time firing off a volley that took a slight deflection off Gonzalez’s leg and beat Penedo.

“We played pretty well in the first half, then a turn of events with a sloppy 10 minutes,” explained Bruce Arena afterward. “We had control of the game, made a couple mistakes, and they burned us for it.”

“We had control of the game, made a couple mistakes, and they burned us for it.”
—Bruce Arena

“Halftime came at a good time for us and we regrouped,” said captain Robbie Keane. “We knew before the game that we needed a goal. Them scoring two goals didn’t really change much to be honest.”

The Sounders’ back line had a lockdown on Keane, Zardes and Donovan, so the goal LA desperately needed had to come from an unexpected place. And it did: in the 54th minute, Juninho ended his season-long scoring drought with a rocket from midfield that just barely beat keeper Stefan Frei to the bottom left corner of the goal.

“It went through all the masses, I didn’t see it until the very end — through one of our guys’ legs, even,” recalled Frei. “An inch further and I probably have it, an inch further out and it probably pings off the post and stays out.”

“An inch further and I probably have it, an inch further out and it probably pings off the post and stays out.”
—Stefan Frei, goalkeeper, Seattle Sounders

Inches from defeat — but the LA Galaxy held on to their advantage for a gripping half hour and came away the series winners. Sunday, at home, the Galaxy face their final test: an MLS Cup final against the red-hot New England Revolution.

Landon Donovan, for one, is already looking ahead to next week. “It seems perfect, but we are playing a team that I think is the best team in the league over the last 12 games.”

“I just want to prepare myself for one last week and do everything I can to help this team win. I want to go out a champion.”

 

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