SEATTLE– The only two clubs to reach the playoffs for the last seven years straight. Two of the league’s biggest payrolls and glitziest rosters. Two of the most decorated coaches in the history of American soccer. Everything was in place for Wednesday night’s knockout-round playoff match between the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders to deliver some memorable soccer.
It did not disappoint.
Nuts. Insane. Call it what you will: the Sounders will call it a 3-2 win in front of 39,357 at rain-soaked CenturyLink Field, catharsis against a nemesis, and a trip to the Western Conference semifinals.
The Sounders will face either the Vancouver Whitecaps or FC Dallas on Sunday, depending on the outcome of Thursday’s match between the Portland Timbers and Sporting KC.
Midfielder Erik Friberg’s stunning strike late in the second half provided the game-winning goal in a match that saw four goals in the first 22 minutes and seemingly never lost a frenetic, desperate energy.
It was a victory a long time coming for a Sounders team seemingly forever stymied by Bruce Arena’s Galaxy.
Three times the Galaxy and the Sounders had met in the MLS playoffs. And three times — the 2010 conference semifinals and the 2012 and 2014 conference finals — the Galaxy sent the Sounders packing for the winter. They are also one of the few teams around the league the Sounders have consistently struggled to handle in the regular season.
But for one night, for one year, the Sounders had the Galaxy’s number.
A Sounders goal had felt imminent for the better part of the second half when, in the 73rd minute, a softly cleared cross seemed to harmlessly bounce toward Friberg just outside the penalty area. Despite drifting away from goal, Friberg thundered a 20-yard, left-footed half-volley inside the near post for the 3-2 lead and his first goal for the Sounders since rejoining the club midsummer.
Gyasi Zardes nearly equalized for the second time of the night in the 82nd minute, but goalkeeper Stefan Frei dove to his left to preserve the lead.
The knockout-round exit caps a massively disappointing season for a star-studded and deeply resourced Galaxy organization that had won three of the last four MLS Cups, considers perennial title contention a given, and that most observers expected to challenge for the 2015 trophy. Indeed, in midsummer the Galaxy looked ready to steamroll the league, at one point scoring at least four goals in four out of five matches. But newly minted designated players Giovani dos Santos and Steven Gerrard never seemed to truly fit in after an initial honeymoon, and the club never adequately replaced midfielder Marcelo Sarvas. A team long known for peaking at the right time sputtered into the playoffs with a 1-4-2 record in its last seven matches, and didn’t get off to a better start on Wednesday night.
Clint Dempsey opened the scoring in just the fifth minute after a miscommunication between Donovan Ricketts and center back OmarGonzalez led to a Friberg cross deflecting off the defender’s back as he ducked to get out of Ricketts’ way. The ball hit Ricketts in the chest before falling to a charging Dempsey, who decisively finished into an empty net for the 1-0 lead and his third goal in two games.
Sebastian Lletget equalized barely a minute later, taking the ball off the foot of teammate Gyasi Zardes and one-touching a 15-yard strike past Frei. Zardes had spun on defender Brad Evans just inside the penalty area after receiving a pass from Giovani do Santos.
Before the home-field crowd even had a chance to bemoan the lost lead, Nelson Valdez put the Sounders up 2-1 in the 12th minute, sliding past Gerrard into the heart of the 6-yard box to track down an Andreas Ivanschitz free kick and poke a half-volley past Ricketts.
But Zardes quickly equalized with the fourth goal of the match in the 22nd minute, finding himself utterly unmarked at the top of the 18-yard box as he chested down a pass from Juninho and buried a shot just inside the near post to tie the match at 2-2.
Ivanschitz appeared to put the Sounders back ahead less than a minute later, but referee Jair Maruffo consulted with his line judge and eventually ruled Clint Dempsey offside on the play.
The Galaxy put the Sounders under immense pressure for the remainder of the half, outshooting Seattle 11-3 before the break (and having a field day in the heart of the park in the absence of injured Sounders’ midfielder Osvaldo Alonso), but was unable to find the go-ahead goal.
Seattle finally got back on the front foot as the half neared a close; a rare bit of sustained possession led to a Valdez header curling over the crossbar as stoppage time approached.
The Sounders continued pressing matters to start the second half, with only a diving save from Ricketts preventing Dempsey from finding his second goal of the night moments before Obafemi Martins missed badly from 12 yards out. All before the half was four minutes old.
In the 65th minute Ivanschitz tracked down a through-ball between two Galaxy defenders, but couldn’t settle himself enough to seriously challenge Ricketts. Seattle continued attacking in swarms until the ball fell to Friberg with less than 20 minutes to play, and the Swede unleashed a shot Sounders fans will remember for a long, long time, a shot that may have ended a dynasty and most certainly booted the defending champions from the 2015 playoffs.
Victory was not without its costs: Captain Brad Evans left the match late in stoppage time with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring. Left back Leo Gonzalez also left with an injury in the 36th minute.
Looks like Gerrard really brought that Liverpool “winning” spirit to the Galaxy… Like I said from the beginning, big mistake and an aging Gerrard just doesn’t fit what the Galaxy needed in the midfield. (I know it’s not all his fault, but he has not been what people hoped – not even close.)
I saw an Arena quote that the Galaxy gifted Seattle their goals. The one Sounders goal that wasn’t a gift was the one called back (which I watched about 3 times on replay and still can’t figure out where the off sides was). Their defense was terrible and I agree with the others about Rickets vs. Pineda. The Galaxy basically lost this game because they were too cheap to give Pineda a reasonable raise. It was an exciting game, though, and both teams fought very, very hard. I didn’t want it to stop, but I wasn’t too disappointed to see the Galaxy lose since they didn’t deserve it and haven’t played well in quite a while.
Agree with all this, except I’m not sure you’re right about the Galaxy being “too cheap.” Since you post here about 40 times a day, I’m guessing you’re aware that all MLS teams work under a salary cap? What pissed Penedo off is that when the league released the “Targeted Allocation Money” to all the teams in July, Galaxy gave it all to Omar Gonzalez. Penedo had been asking for more. He probably deserved more. But Galaxy were stuck – they had already removed the DP tag from Gonzalez, and they needed to give every penny of the TAM money to him or he’d have been forced to take a pay cut.
Based on Gonzalez play the last two months, probably they should have paid Penedo some of that TAM money, and just told Omar to feel the pain of life. But they didn’t, they lost Penedo (who btw still isn’t playing anywhere), and their defense fell apart.
Hard to feel sorry for the Galaxy.
Omar’s play on Dempsey’s goal was dreadful. Those who clamored for his inclusion in the Mexico match need only watch that play to change their mind. I agree with those above the Pineda loss was bigger than any of the signings this Summer.
Gerrard does in fact eat a lot of meat pies. The wet kit last night did not leave much doubt there. Who looked fatter and more useless this year him or Lamplard? He did have that goal saving clearance I guess………otherwise he was useless. Why does Bruce only think lleget can go 75 mins? He actually looks like he has a clue out there.
That’s because in order to not to create controversy by taking out Gerrard, who contributed nothing (not only in this game) in the attack or possession in the mid field, they rather sacrifice Lleget. This is the issue I have with having to many international “super stars” on a team, young US players, It seems are paying the price of not having enough playing time, even though they are making an impact on the field.
Hahaha Gals. Bye bye you overpriced ship of fools. Bruce looked like a sharp dressed man in his took! Go eat more meat pies Gerrard ya filthy loser! And take your AmEx card away from the wife. She’s done enough shopping on Rodeo Drive
This would be a better comment if they hadn’t won 2 SS and 3 MLS Cups in the last five years.
Very classy. No wonder Sounders fans are so highly regarded around the league.
Ricketts has been the problem (and somewhat Gerrard but he has stepped it up lately); no cohesion with the back 4… He should have had all 3 balls Sounders scored on. Losing Pinedo has been huge. Dos Santos also seemed to be on a different page than everyone else.
Arena looked baffled. So was I. How could a team as talent-laden as the Galaxy look so bad in the run-in? Losing eight of their final nine? Who do you point fingers at? What went wrong? Mind-boggling, and devastating. Good luck Sounders.
Glad to see its the Sounders and not L.A. I know they aren’t playing well but I just feel like LA could always randomly remember who they are and destroy us (Dallas).