Seattle Sounders FC went into its resolution match against Los Angeles not only believing it could do what had never been done, but even having an idea of how it could play out.
The Sounders wanted an early goal – and got one.
They wanted to add another by the middle section – and got that.
Finally, they figured they might manage a series equalizer down the stretch if they could just hold the Galaxy to zero.
That’s where their plan collapsed Sunday as L.A. converted a controversial penalty kick that ended the scoring. Seattle won the game, 2-1, but lost the aggregate Western Conference final series, 4-2, before 44,575, the largest crowd in MLS postseason history for a non-MLS Cup match.
Los Angeles will go on to play host to the MLS Cup against the Houston Dynamo on Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, the Sounders’ season came to an end one round deeper into the playoffs than they had ever gone before. But they found that a mixed blessing.
“I think this one hurts the most because we were that much closer,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “It’s just disappointing, you know. We gave ourselves such a big hole after the first game. I think you saw tonight, the guys gave everything.”
The Sounders came into the game needing to overcome the three-goal deficit from their 3-0 loss in L.A. on Nov. 11.
All week, players said it would help that unprecedented task if they could get an early goal. Then, in the 11th minute they seemed to get one from Eddie Johnson – until it was waved off for offside.
That crucial call would linger through the rest of the game, into an unhappy Sounders locker room and probably into the offseason.
However, Johnson struck again two minutes later, and this one remained on the scoreboard.
It started with a chip from Zach Scott, which Johnson received behind the defense and knocked inside the near post from the top of the penalty area.
“In order to give ourselves a chance, we knew that we would have to have a good start for the game,” Johnson said. “It would have been good to get two before halftime.”
Instead, the Sounders’ second goal came in the 57th minute, with Scott heading in a corner kick from Christian Tiffert.
Suddenly, they were two-thirds of the way to evening the series.
However, they knew their comeback plans demanded not only scoring three goals but preventing any from the Galaxy.
And that came to a controversial end in the 68th minute when Seattle defender Adam Johansson was called for a handball in the penalty area. Replays showed that the ball went to Johansson’s left arm – rather than arm to ball – however, his arm was away from his body and high.
Referee Mark Geiger blew the whistle, Robbie Keane nailed the penalty kick, and suddenly the Sounders were again two goals behind on aggregate.
“Whether it was or wasn’t (a handball), it killed our momentum,” Zakuani said. “I think at that time we were really pressing L.A.”
Seattle had chances again after that, but wasn’t able to change the scoreboard or delay the end of the season.
“First of all, congratulations to L.A. for getting to the MLS Cup final,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously, the damage was done to us in Game No. 1. I thought we came out tonight and played with good resolve, good energy. I thought the penalty kick was a little bit of a harsh call but that’s the way it seems to have gone for us a little bit this season.”
Seattle’s frustration boiled over after the final whistle as a scrum of players pursued Geiger and his assistants. During the dispute, Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso was given a second yellow card and therefore will be ineligible for the Sounders’ 2013 season-opener in March.
“It makes it difficult when you’re digging out the whole time, and you’re playing from behind,” defender Jeff Parke said. “Unfortunately we have to learn from this as we did the other year. We’re not exactly where we want to be, but we’re going in the right direction.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com/soccer