By Liviu Bird
SEATTLE — Seattle Sounders FC needed a miracle to overcome a three-goal deficit against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, and the Sounders nearly pulled it off. Until Robbie Keane scored on a penalty in the second half to seal a 4-2 aggregate victory, 2-1 in Seattle’s favor on the day, a tying goal seemed imminent.
An attack from all angles was what the Sounders needed, and it’s what they got from Steve Zakuani, Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans, Christian Tiffert and — the unlikeliest of these sources — Zach Scott.
The third-choice left back had a hand in both Sounders goals, making up for a mediocre performance a week earlier at the Home Depot Center.
Ultimately, the deficit was too great to overcome, making it two seasons in a row in which Seattle nearly did the impossible and came back from 3-0 down in the first leg of a playoff series to at least force extra time.
The slick surface of CenturyLink Field played some role in the change between legs 1 and 2, but the Galaxy knew all they had to do was avoid losing by three goals or more.
Task defending champions with defending a three-goal lead over 90 minutes, especially with the likes of Keane, David Beckham and Landon Donovan on the squad, and they will prevail nearly every time. This was one of those times.
Improvement on the Flanks
The most noticeable difference for Seattle between the first and second legs was its wide play. It was nearly nonexistent in Los Angeles, where the Sounders managed just 15 open-play crosses and won three corner kicks.
In the return leg, they won five corners and hit 24 open-play crosses.
Zakuani’s inclusion on the left side was a spark of speed and creativity that Seattle used effectively all night. Having two forwards to target with service instead of just one also helped the Sounders find more meaningful attacks, especially from wide areas.
Shielding the Back Four
Osvaldo Alonso played his normally effective style, keeping the back four from seeing too much of the ball the few times Los Angeles got forward. Opta credited him with 12 recoveries on the night, which is “where a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose or where the ball has been played directly to him,” according to the company’s definitions.
Especially with Scott and Adam Johansson overlapping frequently, the center backs needed support to prevent counter-attacks from flourishing.
All season long, Alonso played a defensive spoiler for Seattle. It’s a role that has him in the discussion of best holding midfielder in the league, and it also has many wondering how well he would fit in on the United States national team, should FIFA allow him to play.
Great (Zach) Scott
Even before kickoff on Sunday, Zach Scott was up for the game. He gave the final motivational talk in the pregame huddle, animatedly gesturing and visibly trying to get players on his level of desire. If nothing else, his own speech seemed to inspire him to an early assist and a diving header finish on a corner kick.
The finish was a nice bit of skill and bravery, but it was helped by some poor defending and a bit of luck in the penalty-area scrum.
At the start of the play, everybody is effectively man-marked. Beckham is staying on top of the area in case the ball finds its way out, as is Zakuani. Edson Buddle, as Taylor Twellman noted in his immediate analysis for ESPN, is responsible for the near-post space.
Because Fredy Montero is standing near the middle of the goal, the Galaxy pull their far-post marker off the post and man-mark him as well.
As Tiffert starts his run toward the ball to serve it in, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado runs between Scott and Marcelo Sarvas, effectively setting a screen for Scott to run around. That split-second of indecision before Sarvas and Sean Franklin switch marks is all Scott needs to get free.
Both Scott and Johnson end up making unmarked runs toward the near-post space, where Buddle is just a little slow to react to the service. That hesitation is enough for Scott to get to the ball before Buddle does and get a header toward goal.
The ball sneaks in at the far post, where a waiting defender could have easily cleared it off the line. Still, if Buddle had been quicker to react to Tiffert’s service, it never would have gotten that far.
Because the ball swung away from the goal line, it was headed into the attackers’ paths instead of into the defenders’ paths, and that also made it easier for Scott to connect with the ball first. It still required a masterful finish, which the ex-USL Sounder delivered to give his club hope for a historic comeback.
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