SEATTLE – One week made all the difference for the Sounders FC in the Western Conference Finals. While they stumbled in the first leg and fell behind 3-0 in the aggregate-goal series at The Home Depot Center last week, they grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck on Sunday night in the return leg at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders created scoring chances from early in the match and kept the pressure on the Galaxy throughout the match, only letting LA control possession in short bursts.
In the end, though, the 3-0 deficit proved too difficult a mountain to climb for the Sounders. They fought back with two goals to pull within a goal at 3-2, but could not equalize and were put away by a penalty in the second half. They finished with a 2-1 win on the night, but a 4-2 loss in the series, ending their 2012 campaign one game away from the MLS Cup final.
“Obviously, the damage was done to us in game number one. I thought tonight we came out and played with good resolve, good energy,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’re showing that we can win playoff games. We made progress this year, but we have to make sure that the energy with which we played tonight is the energy that we play with all the time.”
The Sounders appeared to get on the board in the 11th minute, when they got the ball to the top of the box and Christian Tiffert fed a ball through to Eddie Johnson behind the Galaxy defense. Johnson blasted a shot past LA goalkeeper Josh Saunders, but the flag was up for offside and the goal was disallowed.
Just over a minute later, Johnson took a through ball from Zach Scott, held off Omar Gonzalez and put a left-footed shot past Saunders to give Seattle the 1-0 lead and hope in the series, trailing 3-1 on aggregate.
“We were in their face the whole night and created chances. We are a team you can’t sit back on,” Johnson said.
Most of the rest of the first half played out evenly and Seattle’s only other good chance came on a header from Fredy Montero, but Saunders was able to cover it for the save.
They came out with similar intensity to start the second half, though, and in the 57th minute Tiffert sent a corner kick to the near post and Scott leaned in to get his head to it and knock it past Saunders for a 2-0 lead in the match, bringing the Sounders within one goal at 3-2 in the series.
“I thought Zach was pretty solid. I thought it was one of – if not his best game of the year,” Schmid said.
The Sounders continued to put pressure on the Galaxy in search of the equalizer, but LA was able to add to their lead against the run of play when Robbie Keane got to the endline in the box up the left side and popped the ball off the hand of Adam Johansson to draw a penalty call.
Keane converted on the PK for his fifth goal of the postseason and the Galaxy’s lead became a commanding 4-2 in the 68th minute.
Schmid made two quick substitutions after the goal, bringing on David Estrada and Mario Martinez while shifting to a 3-5-2 formation to press for another goal. They added another attacker when Mauro Rosales unexpectedly came on in the 81st minute after missing the previous two matches with a hamstring strain.
While they looked dangerous through the final 20 minutes, the Sounders were unable to pull any closer and their season ended with a 4-2 aggregate loss to the defending MLS Cup champions.
“I know each and every one of us can look ourselves in the mirror and know we gave our all. We wouldn’t change anything about tonight. We controlled the game, put it on our terms,” Johnson said. “It was painful today. When you put yourself in difficult positions against the defending champs, it’s tough to get back.”
The Galaxy will face the Houston Dynamo in a rematch of the 2011 MLS Cup final at the Home Depot Center on December 1.
Sounders FC – Eddie Johnson (Zach Scott) 12; Zach Scott (Christian Tiffert) 57.
LA Galaxy – Robbie Keane (PK) 68.
Sounders FC – Eddie Johnson (caution) 68; Osvaldo Alonso (caution) 75; Osvaldo Alonso (caution/ejection) 95+.
LA Galaxy – None.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, Adam Johansson (Mario Martinez 74), Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Zach Scott, Christian Tiffert, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Steve Zakuani (Mauro Rosales 81), Fredy Montero (David Estrada 73), Eddie Johnson.
LA Galaxy – Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Tommy Meyer, Todd Dunivant, Mike Magee, David Beckham, Marcelo Sarvas, Christian Wilhelmsson (Juninho 62), Edson Buddle (Michael Stephens 84), Robbie Keane.