Skip to content

Hard way becoming the only way for finals-bound Galaxy

Nov 19, 2012, 5:32 AM EDT

x200 Getty Images

SEATTLE – Of course, Los Angeles was going to make it tough on themselves. We should have seen it coming.

Even after taking a 3-0 lead in the first leg of their Western Conference final against the Seattle Sounders, the defending Major League Soccer champions were destined to revert to their drama-inducing selves, a quality that saw the team eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League by Toronto FC, plummet to the bottom of the West to start the season, fall behind against Vancouver in the playoffs’ knockout round, and lose at home to San Jose before eventually eliminating the Supporters’ Shield winners.

Those were the tea leaves that foretold LA’s Sunday struggles. The Galaxy were second-best all night, giving back two goals before a late Robbie Keane penalty kick secured the Galaxy’s third finals birth in four seasons. With a 4-2 (aggregate) win over Seattle, LA earned the chance to become the first team in five years to retain the league title.

“We know we didn’t play particularly well,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “We knew it’d be challenging. The objective was to advance to the MLS Cup final. That was accomplished.”

“Seattle played quite well. No question about that. Having said all that, we won this competition 4-2 and deserve to move forward.”

It’s a bottom line that belies the difficulty of the accomplishment. During Sunday’s first 20 minutes, Seattle’s three lead attackers – Johnson, Fredy Montero, and a surprisingly dominant Steve Zakuani – tore apart a Galaxy defense that was being beaten by every trick Seattle tried: combination play and one-on-one attacks; balls over the top and passes played through the line; considered build-up or quick, direct strikes.

“It’s probably been a while since a team came out and put that much pressure on us,” Galaxy right back Sean Franklin conceded, the former all-star forced to bear the brunt of a resurgent performance from Zakuani, who for the first time since suffering a broken leg in April 2011 showed signs of his former explosive self.

Franklin wasn’t the only Galaxy player to struggle early. Omar Gonzalez couldn’t contain Johnson. Rookie Tommy Meyer was out of sync with his partner. Perhaps most worrisome, LA couldn’t hold the ball, the team unable to adjust to a CenturyLink Stadium surface made slick by the downpour that fell during the match’s first half hour. On those occasions the defense was able to withstand Seattle’s pressure, the Galaxy would immediately give the ball back.

“We didn’t pass well tonight,” Arena said when asked about LA’s poor start. “The conditions certainly helped. It was a little bit difficult passing the ball. You could see our players [were] not fully confident on the surface.”

“If you watch the first 20 minutes, it looked as if they were playing on ice and they were playing on natural (grass),” according to David Beckham. “It was very frantic. They were passing the ball and keeping the ball, and we weren’t.”

Faced with problems in defense and midfield, LA did was they’ve done all season, resorting to the most-basic of solutions: Just play better. No tactical adjustments were needed. Bruce Arena didn’t need new personnel. His players just needed to execute.

“We understood we needed to pass the ball a little bit more,” Beckham said. “The game started to slow down … As soon as we put some passes together, we went through them and created chances.”

Still, the Galaxy were never their normal selves. At no point did they show the form that’d made them the league’s best team over the season’s second half. They team that took apart San Jose and Seattle in consecutive matches? They never showed up on Sunday, though to say that was all Los Angeles’s fault would be short-changing Seattle.

“They pressured us for every ball, played into feet,” Arena said of Seattle’s performance. “They positioned themselves better and were much more aggressive for second balls.

“Basically, on the night, they out-worked us.”

Seattle’s pressure left Los Angeles with no shots on frame through the first 45 minutes, and although the visitors had gained a greater foothold on the match by halftime, the Glaaxy still conceded 12 minutes after intermission, Zach Scott’s header off a Christian Tiffert corner pulling Seattle within one.

Then, as predictably as they allowed drama to undermine their otherwise smooth road to the final, Los Angeles regained their focused. Eleven minutes after Scott pulled Seattle within one, Keane created a penalty kick, eventually restoring a two-goal lead. Though Seattle had one good opportunity late, the Galaxy defense came together, aggressive play from goalkeeper Josh Saunders complementing a renewed organization from the back line.

“I thought Tommy and Omar did a good job of winning a few more balls, and we were picking up the second ones as well,” galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said, describing the defense’s improvement throughout the game. “We were able to break out a little bit and not just constantly be back and be pinned in with them firing from all sides. I think that was the biggest difference. We were winning the first ball and then cleaning up the second.”

Better passing, organized defending, winning the second balls. It was the formula Los Angeles used to play out the final minutes of a performance which became a metaphor for their season. It was unduly dramatic and failed to live up to the best team ever billing the champs accrued in the offseason. But it got the job done.

“Escape maybe is the right word, I don’t know,” Dunivant said. “We’re going through. To us, that’s the most important thing.

“If we’d won 3-0, we’d still be going through. We made it difficult on our fans and everyone on the sidelines, but we still got it done.”

If that was an implicit apology from the Galaxy left back, it wasn’t one endorsed by Bruce Arena.

“I don’t feel we escaped anything,” Arena said, defiantly. “We won 4-2 on aggregate. What’s there to escape from?”

“It’s been a really challenging season, and it’s taken a lot of character and talent to get where we are today,” Arena explained.

“After 14 games, we basically conceded the Supporters’ Shield. The objective then was to get into the playoffs. We went on a run that was fabulous. Last 17 games of the season we had 34 points. Thank God [the media wasn’t] smart enough to figure that out so we could kind of do it quietly and get ourselves going again.

“We’re back in the final, and hopefully we can have an improved performance from tonight.”

Latest Posts
  1. Luis Enrique off to the best start in Barcelona history

    Apr 21, 2015, 7:25 PM EDT

    Paris Saint-Germain v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg Getty Images

    Enrique has won 42 of his first 50 games in charge at Barcelona, and has his side gunning for a treble.

  2. Yaya Toure hints at departure from Manchester City

    Apr 21, 2015, 6:37 PM EDT

    AP

    Toure: “No amount of wages will make me stay at a club if I feel that I no longer belong there or if no challenge exists for me.”

  3. VIDEO: Bayern Munich’s second leg comeback the best in UCL history? Here’s a few contenders

    Apr 21, 2015, 5:48 PM EDT

    Deportivo La Coruna v AC Milan Getty Images

    Time to take a trip down memory lane and look at some stunning UCL comebacks.

  4. Bayern Munich 6-1 (7-4, agg.) FC Porto: Bayern obliterate Porto to reach UCL semifinal

    Apr 21, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT

    Thiago, Xabi Alonso Thiago, Xabi Alonso

    Guardiola’s boys batter Porto to reach the final four of the Champions League.

  5. Barcelona 2-0 (5-1, agg.) Paris Saint-Germain: Neymar brace eases Barca into Champions League semifinals

    Apr 21, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT

    AP

    Barcelona reaches the semifinals for the seventh time in eight seasons as the Catalans eliminated PSG from Champions League play.

  6. LIVE — Champions League, at the half: Bayern Munich bags five, will they ever stop scoring?

    Apr 21, 2015, 3:39 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptyzzjc1yzvjmdfknzi4nty4ntyynzbhzdlhmduzmznk AP

    Bayern Munich has put in FIVE first half goals against FC Porto, while Barcelona tightened it’s grip on a semifinal berth.

  7. Report reveals Premier League spenders and gainers with financial breakdown

    Apr 21, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT

    VanGaal Getty Images

    Manchester United spent the most money in the Premier League, while Tottenham made the most.

  8. FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League: Bayern Munich, PSG aim to overturn 3-1 deficits to Barcelona, FC Porto

    Apr 21, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT

    Javier Mascherano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic AP

    Two UCL quarterfinals will take place on Tuesday. Follow them both live, right here.

  9. Wolfsburg, already down 4-1, will be without De Bruyne and Schurrle for Europa League 2nd leg vs Napoli

    Apr 21, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT

    DeBruyne Getty Images

    As they look to mount a dream comeback on the road, the Bundesliga club will be without two of its best attackers.

  10. Report: Arsenal one of four teams in for young Palermo star Paulo Dybala

    Apr 21, 2015, 11:41 AM EDT

    Dybala Getty Images

    Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini has dubbed him the “new Messi” in an attempt to boost his value.

  11. Chris Smalling signs new Manchester United contract through 2019

    Apr 21, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT

    Smalling Getty Images

    With the most goals of any defender in the Premier League, Chris Smalling has emerged as a solid member of Louis van Gaal’s lineup at Old Trafford.

  12. Internal turmoil swirling at Leeds, with transfer lawsuit the latest incident

    Apr 21, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT

    Redfearn Getty Images

    Manager Neil Redfearn is dealing with countless off the field issues, while the club’s legal team now has a new task with problems piling up.

  13. Tim Sherwood may have convinced Ron Vlaar to stay at Villa

    Apr 21, 2015, 9:12 AM EDT

    Vlaar Getty Images

    A player whose departure many thought was a foregone conclusion appears to be reconsidering.

  14. Franz Beckenbauer: Der Kaiser weighs in on Klopp, Dante and Bayern’s CL hopes

    Apr 21, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    franz-beckenbauer-nyc

    NBCSports.com’s Managing Editor Randy Kim spoke with Der Kaiser, as the German legend visited NYC.

  15. Karim Benzema the next Real Madrid attacker to go down injured

    Apr 21, 2015, 7:42 AM EDT

    Benzema Getty Images

    Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and Marcelo are all already out for tomorrow’s 2nd leg with Atletico Madrid, and now their striker is unavailable as well.

  16. Mourinho: Chelsea will promote a handful of youth players to first team next year

    Apr 20, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT

    Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea FA Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea FA

    Mourinho says Chelsea will look to the club’s stacked youth academy for reinforcements, as well as the transfer market.

  17. Report: Jordan Henderson agrees new $150,000-per-week contract to stay at Liverpool

    Apr 20, 2015, 9:44 PM EDT

    Jordan Henderson, Liverpool FC Getty Images

    Liverpool’s captain-in-waiting is reportedly set to sign a new long-term deal at Anfield.

  18. UEFA Champions League preview: Can PSG, Bayern come back from 3-1 down to Barcelona, Porto?

    Apr 20, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT

    Pep Guardiola, FC Bayern Munich Pep Guardiola, FC Bayern Munich

    PSG and Bayern Munich did themselves no favors in the first leg, but it’s still 90 minutes from over.

Featured video

Hazard seals victory for Chelsea