Sounders eliminate defending MLS Cup winners LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders ended LA Galaxy’s reign atop MLS with a 3-2 victory in a Knockout Round match on Wednesday.

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Erik Friberg sent the reigning MLS Cup winners home at the first hurdle with a precisely taken volley after 73 minutes.

Friberg’s decisive goal settled a frenetic, open game befitting these two expansive sides. Clint Dempsey pounced on a Galaxy defensive error to open the scoring after just five minutes, but Sebastian Lletget responded within seconds to restore parity.

Nelson Valdez grabbed the second after 12 minutes to continue the pulsating start. Gyasi Zardes engineered the Galaxy response shortly thereafter, but Friberg eventually decided the match from inside the final 20 minutes.

The cathartic victory sent Seattle through to a Western Conference semifinal against FC Dallas or Vancouver and wrapped up the Galaxy’s frustrating season in defeat.

“Christmas came early in Seattle," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena told reporters after the match. "We absolutely gift wrapped that game for them tonight. Our play in front of our goal defensively was atrocious. We just gift wrapped those three goals. Give them credit — they jumped on the mistakes, but we were shockingly poor. The officiating didn’t help. We have a second goal — maybe the best tackle of the night and he calls it a foul and it ends up in the back of the net. But that’s our fault — we still need to defend better. But we gift wrapped the game. We played real well at times. It’s a game we should have won.”

Both teams embraced this unexpected occasion and stormed out of the gates in response. The pulsating start exposed the continued defensive issues in both ranks — particularly with influential Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso ruled out — and paved the way for four goals inside the opening 22 minutes.

Dempsey notched his third goal inside a week to provide Seattle with the perfect start. Donovan Ricketts came off his line to deal with an initial cross into the penalty area, but he failed to either clear the danger or collect the ball. The rebound popped out kindly for Dempsey to poke into the vacated net.

Lletget produced an immediate response for the Galaxy in the following seconds. Juninho created the initial danger with a ball toward the penalty area, but Zardes unlocked the Sounders defense with a clever flick. Lletget swept home to place the Galaxy back on level terms.

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The tenuous deadlock held until Valdez exploited some poor set piece defending after 12 minutes. Valdez ghosted behind the static Steven Gerrard at the far post and prodded Andreas Ivanschitz’s free kick past Donovan Ricketts to send Seattle back in front once more.

Zardes issued the Galaxy’s response to send the two sides into halftime on level terms. Juninho once again served as the protagonist as he located Zardes on the right side of the penalty area. Zardes collected the square pass and thrashed it inside the far post to leave the match finely poised heading into the interval.

Seattle asserted control over the affair as the second half progressed. Those endeavors eventually led to the winner inside the final 20 minutes from returning midfielder Friberg. The danger started when the Galaxy defense failed to cope with a routine cross from the right. A.J. DeLaGarza and Leonardo both cleared weakly with Leonardo’s tame header proving fatal. Friberg punished the Galaxy for its defensive missteps by lashing home at the first attempt.

“I had one in Champions League, but, in MLS, it was a big goal," Friberg told reporters after the game. "It was perfect. It is always fun to score a goal, but the important thing is that we won the game. They cleared it and I was at the top of the box so I just hit it. It felt pretty good.”

It proved enough to see the Sounders through a determined Galaxy push in the late stages. Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei produced an important block on Zardes to maintain the lead, but the Galaxy’s efforts ultimately faltered in the end. The final whistle drew a close to their reign and sent the Sounders through with their familiar adversary banished for the remainder of this postseason.