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Galaxy deny Sounders, take one-goal lead into second leg

MarceloSarvasLAGalaxy2-SeattleSoundersMLSCupPlayoffs2014 (USATODAYSports)

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

By MARK EDWARD HORNISH

CARSON, Calif. – It’s always the question after the opening match of a two-game aggregate series: “will it be enough?”

The LA Galaxy held serve in the first leg of the Western Conference finals, downing the Seattle Sounders at home, 1-0, before a sold out crowd of 27,000 on a cool and sunny afternoon at the Stub Hub Center.

Marcelo Sarvas found joy when he collected an A.J. DeLaGarza back pass just inside the area and fired a shot at the far side netting. The ball took a slight deflection off the foot of Seattle center back Chad Marshall, and it was enough to wrong-foot Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei and give the Galaxy the lead.

“It puts us in a good position,” Galaxy captain Robbie Keane said after the match. “I think the most important thing today was not to concede a goal, and we did that. And we managed to get one. So overall, not a bad day.”

The Galaxy dominated possession and the stat sheet on the day, holding the ball for 61 percent of the match, and firing off 20 shots to the Sounders ten.

“Keeping that team scoreless is not easy,” Landon Donovan after the match. “Getting the goal was important. We were a little unlucky, and not quite sharp enough to get the second. But we’re confident.”

Despite the dominance on paper, the Galaxy had to rely on several quality saves from their goalkeeper, Panamanian international Jaime Penedo, to maintain the advantage.  Penedo’s most sparkling sequence came in the 20th minute, when first Martins, then Dempsey, both had quick clean looks at the Galaxy goal from inside the six yard box, and both of which were stuffed by a sprawling Penedo.

“Jaime’s been terrific,” said Donovan, when asked about his keeper’s performance. “At the end of the year, he gave up two or three goals that were relatively similar in the way they were created, and the way they played out. He and Matt Reis, the goalkeeper coach, have done a lot of work over the past three weeks on how to do better with those chances.

“Ironically, the chances we gave up today were very similar. Guys slipped in at angles, and he’s come out and made really good saves. He’s been very solid, and when we’ve needed him to make a big save, he has, and that’s how you win championships.”

That said, it was the Galaxy that consistently found time and space in the attacking third, breaking down the usually stalwart Seattle defense with their trademark short-passing game.  Finishing, however, was once again a concern for the Galaxy, failing to put away multiple opportunities, including a Stephan Ishizaki direct free kick that utterly fooled goalkeeper Frei but bounced off the crossbar and went uncollected but the Galaxy.

The match became increasingly chippy as it progressed, and referee Kevin Stott remained reluctant throughout the day to reach for his pockets.  Seattle captain Clint Dempsey found himself on the ground often in the first fifteen minutes, and despite earning an early yellow card, Seattle center back Zack Scott was whistled four more times for fouls involving blows to the back of the head of his opponent, without ever receiving anything more than a talking-to from Stott.

“As you can see, the officiating is important too,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “In these games, I don’t think we quite understand how to deal with this competition with the rules, with cards and everything. It’s been crazy. But it is what it is. Now we’ll have two teams going into the game Sunday with no one suspended, which I guess was the premise behind some of the decisions today.”

“The officials have made it clear that no one’s getting sent off,” added Donovan. “We have to make sure we’re aware of that next weekend, and we’ll play with that in mind, and I’m sure they will too.”

The Western Conference championship now switches to Seattle for the second leg, where the Sounders will have no less than 40,000 fans awaiting.  The Galaxy will bring to CenturyLink Field their legend, Landon Donovan, for what may be the last time ever, and a one-goal lead.  It remains to be seen if that will be enough.

“We’re confident,” Donovan stated. “We’ve been up there (Seattle) twice this year. We were thoroughly dominant in the first game, and we were the much better team for eighty six minutes in the second game. We’re full of confidence this year. We know they’re going to give it their best shot, and we look forward to it.”

Comments

  1. Not sure what game many of the comments are referring to but I was at the game and the Galaxy pressed forward throughout the match. They just had poor finishing and bit of bad luck. Thankful that Dempsey dropped a deuce instead of finishing his one on one opportunity.

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    • Was Husidic as confusing as he looked on TV? Seemed like he had no real idea what he was supposed to be doing out there when he came on…. I still don’t really understand what the instructions might’ve been.

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      • his herky jerky gait must be a natural defensive attribute if it is half as distracting to the opposition as it is to the fan.

    • In the first half, the Gs looked fairly innocuous, but in the second half they pressed hard and maintained the bulk of the possession. Certainly a tale of two halves. And honestly, if not for Zach Scott’s persistent fouling – and the refs bending of the rules to keep Scott in the game – the Gs could have bagged a second goal.

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  2. This side of the MLS playoff in only to determine which team will get the daunting task of going up against Jermaine Jones and the Revs.

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  3. So LA at home is playing not to get scored on and Seattle on the road is playing defensively. Is away goals working or destroying what it was put in place for ?

    Both teams are happy going into the second leg. Let the real game begin !!!

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    • Of course it is. Same thing in Europe, which is why there are so many calls to get rid of it. MLS jumped on the bandwagon just when everyone else was preparing to get off.

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  4. This game was a lot less entertaining than the Red Bull – Revs game. I thought the Red Bull clearly tried to play attacking, high-pressure soccer, but New England was the team that proved capable of scoring.

    I am not sure either Seattle or LA really tried to get forward that much, Seattle left 4 or 5 defenders back 10-20 yards in front of their keeper for long stretches, even when the ball was in the opposite penalty area. LA merely took up the space Seattle ceded to them and had 5 or 6 defenders back to handle the mostly 2-man Seattle attack.

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    • It’s true.. both sides seemed to have the over-arching philosophy of “don’t concede in the first leg” that is prevalent in the latter stages of most European tournaments. I’m not sure if there’s anything “wrong” with it– certainly it’s hard to impeach strategically, even given the importance of away goals. But there seemed to be a high degree of indecision within both teams about what exactly they wanted to accomplish. Same for the NY-NE game that preceded.

      In the UEFA CL, you see very sophisticated strategies (particularly from the Italian sides) about *when* they’d like to score….. When playing at home, teams like Juve and Milan often commit resources in search of a small number of decisive “high value” goals, such as those at the beginning and end of halves. For long spells in between, teams focus largely on possession amd stamina, being certian not to concede opportunities for the opposition to counter and potentially poach a valuable away goal. The remaining opportunities usually come from set pieces.

      Not sure MLS teams have quite felt their way around this dynamic yet, or whether they feel confident that a tie can be settled with 1-2 goals. Still, both ties are set up for very exciting endings given an early goal or two.

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      • Nothing sophisticated about the way the Revs won. In the 79th minute I saw Jermaine Jones make about a 60-yard run like he was made a bunch of in the World Cup and try to latch onto a deep ball over the top; it was pretty obvious then what the strategy was: I am Jermaine the Germerican, and can run further and harder than any American player not called Michael Bradley, and I smell weakness and will break you. A few minutes later, another 60-yard run resulted in him getting on the end of a Teal Bunbury cross, and that was game. For all his skill and style, Thierry Henry just couldn’t offer that particular decisive edge.

        Don’t see the Red Bulls making those two away goals up, especially without Bradley Wright-Phillips…though I guess with Henry (if he decides to play on turf), anything’s possible.

        As far as intricate tactical battles…no. MLS does not seem to be evolving that way.

  5. I’m not a fan of the two leg thing, the first game is always cagey and focused on not losing big. The second leg will be good but we really didn’t learn anything from today.

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    • I can agree with this based on this game (and the NY-NE game, to some extent, as well), even though I do think that the two-legged system can be very entertaining as we often see in UEFA.

      The refs in this year’s playoffs — perhaps more than even the fans — seem keenly attuned to the need for a spectacular conclusion with the best players involved. LD could probably run around the field with chansaws duct-taped to his arms and not get the card that would result in his suspension (he did nothing of the sort, but it would take a superhuman ref to show the guy a card for anything right now).

      Zach Scott pretty much got the memo, and uglified the game to the max possible in spite of his yellow.

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      • That was one of the most inept refereeing performances I’ve ever seen. Yellow when it wasn’t yellow, no yellow when it was clearly yellow, just awful. To your point Doughnut, How Zach Scott stayed on the field was mind blowing.

      • Big difference in UEFA (other then the obvious) is some of the match ups are often sides that haven’t played each other in years. This is the 4th and 5th meeting between the Sounders and LA just this season.

      • A very valid point. I think we are seeing the same cagey mentality that persisted through season-closing Supporters Shield Showdown — which was not exactly a festival of fooball.

        We are all waiting for a classic, mid 200s Chelsea-Barecelona second leg here, and it may or may not come. As you have pointed out, these two teams just may not have a surprise left to pull on one another.

        But through blind faith or ignorance, I insist that the defining match will happen at the next turn, and Jesus Christ himself will weep at the sight of it, shortly before being shown a perfunctory yellow card for time-wasting.

      • That would see Jesus dismissed for his second yellow; the first earned for entering the field of play without having his shirt—errr, robe—tucked into his shorts.

      • But I like your thinking: chainsaws strapped to his arms would certainly lead to a spectacular conclusion.

        Why must MLS always copy the Euro snob no-chainsaws tradition?!

    • I was on the road for most of the match so for the first 65 minutes I could only listen to it on the radio. Then I got to watch the end and, well, the radio was more exciting. At least then I could imagine something interesting happening.

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      • Ha. Funny you should mention it King… I got my timing wrong on my BBQ and ended up listening to about 25 minutes of the mid-game (including the goal) on the radio. Realized it was the first time in my entire life I’d listened to live soccer on the radio. What are your thoughts on the experience?

      • BBQ, eh? Shall I direct my reply to “Alonso’s Pulled Pork Hamstring” or “Jack’s McBaked Beans”?

        This wasn’t the first time that work/family/grilling obligations and a general lack of DVR/subscription have conspired to leave me with no other choice than to listen to a game.

      • Very, very nice stuff there. As it turned out for me, I ended up caught in two minds and more or less ruined everything on the grilling front. Although it turned out my undercooked ribs and medi-okra were well paired to the fare on the field

  6. At some point, we’re going to get the feast of exceptional soccer we’ve all been waiting for out of these two teams (aren’t we?). The scoreline does set up well for a great return leg…. but jeez c’mon already! Too many ugly touches and cagey fouls. Let’s see the product!

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    • Their previous 2-leg matchup got the same criticism, but I argued that it was actually a brilliant display of excellent defending from both teams. Can’t say the same about this game.

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