LA Galaxy 3 : 0 Sounders FC
After a slow start and tumultuous regular season, the defending MLS Champions the Los Angeles Galaxy displayed the class and form tonight that showed why they were the odds on favorite to repeat as MLS Cup Champions at the outset of the season.
A decisive 3-0 victory served as a showcase for the talent that Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Co. are able to produce.
“We played very well tonight against an excellent team. We’re not foolish enough to believe that this thing is over. The game in Seattle on Sunday will be a real difficult game and we have to have our team ready to play, “said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, “I thought the whole group was (excellent tonight). This was one of those nights that every player was on form and did an outstanding job.
Second half goals by Robbie Keane and Mike Magee were merely the crescendo to several cleverly timed runs and passes by the whole of the Galaxy side that had the Sounders backline out of sorts and clearly on the back foot.
“At the end of the day I think it was just the quality of their two strikers,” said Sounder coach Sigi Schmid, “I think you have to take their hat off to them, their quality was good, Landon was good, Keane was good, and we just didn’t quite have enough.”
After a slow start to the first half, the Galaxy strung together a fantastic first goal from Robbie Keane just before the halftime whistle that seemed to turn the game on its head and pave the way for further Galaxy exploits.
With the Sounders defense and midfield coming out of their shell ever so slightly in search of the equalizer, the Galaxy attack was afforded just enough space and time to reap the rewards of two more goals and perhaps what could have easily been more.
The game now sets up a second leg in Seattle that is reminiscent of the Sounder’s playoff series last year against Real Salt Lake where the home team could only erase two of the three goal deficit despite a spirited effort. The team will have to hope they can produce a similar effort next Sunday and many of the team were taking solace in the fact that they outscored the Galaxy 6-0 in two games this year at Century Link Field.
Whether they can produce a similar result with Omar Gonzalez now on the field remains to be seen, but Sigi Schmid, Jeff Parke and Eddie Johnson promised that this team wouldn’t go down without a spirited effort.
With Eddie Johnson injured and unable to start, Schmid elected to go with a 4-5-1 formation with Montero serving as the lone striker atop a midfield of Martinez-Tiffert-Alonso-Evans-Caskey. It was Caskey’s first start since August for the Sounders and Mauro Rosales was again held out from the 18 man line-up. Zach Scott got the late call at left back after Marc Burch’s suspension and Gonzalez’s continued injury.
The Sounder’s choice of line-up seem to reveal that without the firepower of Eddie Johnson, Sigi Schmid was willing to slow the game down rather than risk a free flowing back-and-forth game with Keane and Donovan in form the way last month’s contest at the Home Depot Center played out.
The Galaxy returned the strike partnership of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane with Edson Buddle held out of the 18 with an injury. Christian Wilhelmsson filled in at right flank to test Zach Scott at his unnatural position.
The Galaxy selected a very attack minded line-up but through the first 20 minutes looked unable to really crack the well organized Sounders defense. Their best chances seemed to come on the counter attack with Donovan or Keane played into space behind the Sounders fullbacks.
One such chance resulted in Donovan being allowed to get the angle on Hurtado and behind the defender before being dragged down just outside the area with referee Jair Marrufo handing out a yellow card to the centerback.
Without a second striker Montero struggled to connect with his midfield. The Galaxy defense did well to converge on him in the early going dispossessing him of the ball often in his attempt to hold up play while waiting for midfield support.
The Sounders best chances in the first half came from their attempts to test Galaxy goalkeeper from distance. Alonso had a pair of drives that forced Saunders into rather routine saves, but with the offense unable to connect on quality final balls in the attacking third, these seemed to be the best offensive threats the Sounders could muster in the opening half.
The first 45 minutes were rather slow, which is not atypical of a two-legged playoff series with both teams feeling each other out and both having come off full schedules the last two weeks.
Sounders were seconds away from entering the locker rooms unscathed.
But in stoppage time of the first half, the Galaxy were able to produce a quality build up in play out of the back with eight Galaxy members getting touches on the ball to produce the game’s opening goal.
Passing the ball out of the back, David Beckham was able to spring loose Sean Franklin who attacked down the right touchline. He sent in a ball towards Wilhelmsson who was able to flick the ball into the area towards Donovan.
The US international beat Jeff Parke to the 50/50 ball and chase down his first touch at the endline before chipping it up and over the goalkeeper and defense to an awaiting Robbie Keane who headed home the goal.
You could hardly fault Zach Scott on the goal, but the goal was a result of a persistent attack down the right flank that seemed to be the game plan in the absence of Marc Burch due to his suspension. Michael Gspurning, who had a 224 minute scoreless streak snapped, attempted to lurch at the ball with his feet rather than use his hands which seemed awkward but regardless of which body part he was trying to use he was highly unlikely to keep the ball out of the net.
The Donovan to Keane combination was again great weapon for the Galaxy with the pair having produced two goals just four days prior.
At halftime the Galaxy withdrew Juninho in favor of Marcelo Sarvas. It was a smart decision for Arena with Juninho, who sat on a Yellow Card warning, will be needed in the return leg at Century Link.
The Galaxy continued to play well at the outset of the first half. They produced another great chance in the 56th minute on a nice interplay between Keane and Donovan once again. Magee sent in a bouncing square ball atop the penalty area. Donovan made dummy run, leaving the ball for Keane who played Donovan behind the defense.
The effervescent Donovan tried to lay the ball off for Wilhelmsson on the far post but Alex Caskey made a great lunging tackle to the keep the deficit at one. The whole sequence was another display of the class and skill the Galaxy possess when at their best.
And it wouldn’t take the Galaxy long to display it once again. After Seattle had pushed forward in attack, Los Angeles sprung loose on the counter attack with Beckham collecting the outlet and laying the ball off to Keane who then played the ball again behind Zach Scott to an onrushing Sean Franklin behind the back line. Franklin played a nice square ball to Mike Magee who was alone on the doorstep and he coolly finished to the weak side for the game’s second goal.
Eddie Johnson was brought on for Freddy Montero who languished alone up top for the much of the evening as he looked for support. It seemed bizarre to finally deliver him that support while removing him.
The Galaxy would soon tack on a third goal. Again they would move get the ball into the attacking third with some nifty passes. Landon Donovan found the ball at his feet atop the area on the left side and would attempt a shot that would go deflected by Jeff Parke.
Wilhelmsson’s momentum carried him behind Scott and the deflect shot was collected at about the six yard box by the Swede who would touch the ball around Gspurning. The goalkeeper did well to get a piece of the shot but the ball was clearly heading over the line when Robbie Keane was on the spot to make sure of it, pushing it over from one yard away.
The goal served as exhibit A for a team that was clearly on the front foot, with both Wilhelmsson and Keane first to the loose ball ahead of a dogged Seattle backline.
The Sounders would make a double change as Andy Rose would come on for Christian Tiffert and Steve Zakuani for Alex Caskey.
The Sounders would produce their best second half opportunities in the final 10 minutes of the game including a shot inside the box by Zakuani that was blocked by Tommy Meyer and two late teasing corner kicks.
But in the end it was a deserved result as the Galaxy were clearly the better side on the evening especially in the second half. As the legs of Seattle grew weary after travel and three days rest, the class of the Galaxy side was on full display and leaves a huge uphill climb for the Sounders on the return leg.