Nov 19, 2012, 5:32 AM EST
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.”
Dec 18, 2013, 12:15 PM EST
With a massive opportunity to impress, here’s how Spurs’ interim boss can stick around:
Dec 18, 2013, 11:03 AM EST
Impact hand reigns to ex-Chicago Fire boss, as Klopas signs three-year deal:
Dec 18, 2013, 10:35 AM EST
Top Spanish sides investigated as “irregular public funding” is alleged by EU. Do new Financial Fair Play rules have anything to do with this?
Dec 18, 2013, 10:00 AM EST
After another defeat, the ‘Special One’ bemoans Chelsea’s lack of ruthlessness:
Dec 18, 2013, 9:15 AM EST
De Rosario, Ruiz and Ferreira all up for grabs. Plus plenty of other gems available:
Dec 18, 2013, 8:32 AM EST
After everything, Becks’ love for United remains. And the ex-MLS star sees a bright future ahead for United:
Dec 18, 2013, 7:43 AM EST
Were Spurs’ players 100 percent behind AVB? Apparently so…
Dec 17, 2013, 11:02 PM EST
Rounding up the smaller bits of news and other happenings around Major League Soccer:
Dec 17, 2013, 10:14 PM EST
Today’s news moves us one painful step closer to an awful, perhaps inevitable, destination:
Dec 17, 2013, 9:10 PM EST
And what a smart move that is from the current LA Galaxy assistant:
Dec 17, 2013, 8:28 PM EST
At this point, the big surprise would be if Clint Dempsey did not go on loan in January.
Dec 17, 2013, 7:43 PM EST
There are retreads, and then there are retreads who scored over 100 goals for your club. Can Hoddle be Spurs’ Dalglish?
Dec 17, 2013, 7:02 PM EST
Hard to tell if there’s any real progress here, but there was a bit of news today:
Dec 17, 2013, 6:15 PM EST
Fabio Borini eliminates his former club, while an Edin Dzeko double lifts the Citizens at Leicester.
Dec 17, 2013, 5:52 PM EST
In an interview with KingFut.com, the former U.S. national team manager demonstrates why he remains one of the true gentlemen of the U.S. Soccer community:
Dec 17, 2013, 5:12 PM EST
The big 4-0 comes just 10 days after his club raised the MLS Cup trophy:
Dec 17, 2013, 4:40 PM EST
Although he evolved into a problem in Seattle, Eddie Johnson could be a solution for United.
Bayern Munich has easy time in 3-0 win over Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande at FIFA Club World Cup
Dec 17, 2013, 4:27 PM EST
If Bayern Munich wants to remind everyone it has the best team in the world, the Bavarian giants are certainly going about it the right way.
Dec 17, 2013, 3:54 PM EST
High, high praise from the Everton manager for his U.S. international starter in goal:
Dec 17, 2013, 3:22 PM EST
Never mind Jimmy Nielsen’s retirement; the champs appear to be set in goal once again:
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