By JOSE M. ROMERO
Thanks to a surprise goal from Edson Buddle, the Los Angeles Galaxy own the upper hand ahead of Sunday's Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinal second leg with the Seattle Sounders.
The shocking strike happened in the 38th minute last Sunday at Qwest Field. A long routine header from defender Omar Gonzalez landed at the feet of Buddle ahead of all but one Seattle defender. At least 35 yards from the goal, Buddle got a good bounce, turned, and fired away, and the ball eluded Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
The Galaxy captured the first leg, 1-0, and are now afforded the luxury of playing with less pressure to score on its home field.
The goal was deflating for Seattle at home in front of 35,000-plus fans, but the Sounders kept attacking. Donovan Ricketts was a rock for the Galaxy in goal, however, and made eight saves. His best came in the 23rd minute, when he turned away a header right in front from Seattle's Fredy Montero.
As well as its defensive unit played, the Galaxy did have some defensive breakdowns that gave the Sounders chances, and it will have to address those for the return leg. Though the Galaxy largely negated the Sounders' game plan of working the ball to its speedy wings, Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi, and allowing them to create, the Sounders still have that speed presence and the potential to strike quickly.
The first leg was physical and saw several hard tackles. Expect that to continue Sunday in the next chapter of what has been mostly a one-side rivalry since the Sounders joined MLS.
The Sounders will have to push forward from the start and it is imperative that they score first. Getting down 2-0 to the Galaxy would appear to be too deep a hole to climb out of given the way the Galaxy midfield controlled the run of play last week. For the Sounders, midfield play is critical.
Seattle must get more touches for center midfielders Nathan Sturgis and Osvaldo Alonso. Gonzalez and the Galaxy defense did a fine job on Sounders forward Blaise N'kufo, keeping him from being much of a factor and limiting his ability to distribute the ball to Zakuani when in deep. That should continue to be part of the Galaxy's game plan.
The Sounders have yet to win a playoff game in team history and are on the road down a goal. The Galaxy didn't win the Supporters Shield for its offense only, and will be in lockdown mode with opportunities to create chances off the counterattack on Sunday. Los Angeles is in solid position to advance to the conference final, but more stout defending by Landon Donovan and David Beckham on the wings will be necessary to keep Seattle's attack off balance.
Do you see any way Seattle battles back and takes the series on the road? Think the Galaxy are too strong defensively and will advance?
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