An Early Christmas in Seattle ends LA’s Playoffs

Poor defense proves to be the LA Galaxy’s undoing in quick exit from the MLS Playoffs.

“Listen, it’s very Irish to never point fingers, but as a group of players you know we have to take responsibility for ourselves.” —Robbie Keane.

A clash of the titans of the Western Conference MLS playoffs took place last night under rainy, ominous skies at CenturyLink, as the once-favored, five-time title holders the LA Galaxy fell 2-3 in the face of sustained Seattle Sounders full-frontal assault in the second half of a goal-laden match.

In a way the match was a gift to all fans of the game, especially if you didn’t have a stake in the results. There was no clear-cut winner in the rollercoaster first half that ended 2-2, leaving everyone stunned and in search of a breather. But as much as we longed for halftime’s warm embrace, it also put a stutter-step in the drive, energy and skillful determination of LA’s attack, which had finally found its legs after a rough two months.

But the momentum was lost. In the second half Seattle pounced on the unsuspecting and unprepared LA defense, pulling a final goal from the frenzy. After that moment a few chances came LA’s way, but none were good enough to clear past Seattle keeper Stefan Frei.

The Sounders’ first tally came in the fifth minute, when Friberg fed a ball into LA’s penalty box and a lack of communication saw Omar Gonzalez block Donovan Ricketts — giving Clint Dempsey the opportunity to drive the ball in to an open net. Galaxy’s Sebastien Lletget equalized just one minute later, sneaking a shot past Sounders ‘keeper Stefan Frei with a little foresight from Giovani dos Santos and a touch from Gyasi Zardes to set up the goal.
The barrage of offense continued on both sides. In the 12th minute Nelson Valdez turned Andreas Ivanschitz’s free kick into the net to make it 2-1. Gyasi Zardes left his mark in the 22nd minute, when a patient Zardes fired a shot that flew past Frei, tying the score again, 2-2.

The game eventually settled down from supersonic to simply frenetic, with rain and heavy legs to blame. Both sides looked for a third goal, but Erik Friberg’s rifled effort with 17 minutes to go sent LA into a tailspin. Friberg capitalized with his perfect strike, after a Tyrone Mears cross was cleared by AJ DeLaGarza and Leonardo. Cue Ricketts? All I hear are crickets.

The 3-2 lead sent Seattle’s home crowd into bliss and LA into panic. Substituting in Baggio Husidic for Sebastien Lletget, and bringing in the cavalry (Alan Gordon) in the final minutes wasn’t enough to give LA a tie. It was too little, too late. A porous defensive line and inconsistent marking made the difference between the teams. To quote one of my favorite heartbreak songs: “The winner takes it all. The loser has to fall.”

The Galaxy dynasty ended last year, in case anyone was still living in the past, and there will be no repeat of the previous Cup final, as both LA and New England fell to knockout round home teams. Now LA faces an unusually long offseason to take stock and rebuild from the rubble of this season’s highly-compensated dreams.

“I think in general play we are conceding too many goals off of set-pieces into the box. It feels like we have to score three or four goals to win games at the moment and that’s not how we can be. We have to improve on that.”
—Steven Gerrard

Three times in six years, the Sounders saw their season end with series losses to the five-time MLS Cup champions. That fog has lifted. Seattle will continue on to host either FC Dallas or Vancouver on Sunday, depending on tonight’s Portland-Kansas City match.