CARSON, Calif. – Sounders FC’s second season came to an end Sunday, and this time with little suspense.
The Los Angeles Galaxy came into the deciding game of the two-game aggregate score series with a one-goal advantage and then built on it with a 2-1 win before a crowd of 27,000 at Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy scored on a pair of first-half set pieces that pushed their aggregate lead to a practically insurmountable three goals and held Seattle scoreless until Steve Zakuani broke through in the 85th minute.
“Basically, we started off the game poorly and put ourselves behind the 8-ball (when) they scored two set pieces,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think we showed some character in the second half, created enough chances. But creating chances alone doesn’t do it, scoring does.”
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Although the bottom line was the same, this elimination was far different from the one last season, when Houston finally advanced with a lone goal in added time.
Zakuani said this was worse.
“Last year we were close, last year there was a lot of inexperience,” he said. “This year I think we had good reason to believe we could have gone through. As good as L.A. were, I thought it was a very good matchup for us. It proved to be a game where they took their chances and we didn’t. You look at the goals today off set pieces: world-class delivery, good finishes, but at the same time it’s goals we need to stop. And at the other end we had chances, all of us.”
The game unfolded L.A.’s way from the start, as its early defensive-mindedness gave the Sounders plenty of trouble even approaching the attacking third.
Meanwhile, it also set up the Galaxy for counterattacks that gave it the most threatening chances even before it broke through.
That finally happened in the 19th minute. The Galaxy’s pressure caused Patrick Ianni to clear a cross into the stands. And that set up a corner kick, which David Beckham put onto the head of Edson Buddle, who knocked it past Kasey Keller for a 1-0 lead.
Eight minutes later, a similar goal played out. This time it was Sanna Nyassi who set up the set piece by dumping Landon Donovan. Beckham found Omar Gonzalez this time, and his finish moved L.A. ahead 2-0 on the evening and 3-0 in the series.
“David’s getting back into form,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “... His reputation on set pieces is well known, well respected, and well earned.”
When the second half began, Alvaro Fernandez was in and Nyassi was out.
“A couple of guys on our team, the game was too big for them,” Schmid said. “It was too big an occasion, and they turned over the ball in bad spots.”
Over the final 45 minutes, the Galaxy drifted into a defensive posture.
That resulted in better chances for the Sounders. Fredy Montero got several true opportunities, and Zakuani had a one-on-one turned away by MLS keeper of the year Donovan Ricketts before finally getting Seattle on the board five minutes from the end.
The Sounders kept pushing forward over the final minutes, but the two-goal aggregate advantage stuck.
When the final whistle blew, the season ended on the same turf where many Sounders had believed their season had turned around.
A 3-1 loss to the Galaxy on July 4 marked the low point of Seattle’s season, as their record fell to 4-8-3. From there, they closed the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league.
“Frustration all around,” Keller said. “But I don’t think we want to forget where we were at the midpoint of this season. ... I’ve very proud of what the team has done this season. We got more points than we did the first year: a lot of lot of positives. It’s just disappointing in the way these two games wrapped up.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org