Galaxy edge Sounders, take slim lead in Western Conference final
CARSON, Calif. --
The fairytale ending is slowly turning into a vivid reality for Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Squaring off against the Supporters’ Shield-winning Seattle Sounders, the Galaxy won 1-0 Sunday in the first leg of the Western Conference final to give them the advantage with a spot to host the MLS Cup Final next month.
The match finally turned in the home team’s favor in the 52nd minute when Marcelo Sarvas got a low pass from A.J. DeLaGarza on the right side and hit a shot from about 15 yards out that took a deflection off Sounders defender Chad Marshall and into the back of the net.
“DeLaGarza had the ball in a position to cross, I took two steps back and he saw me,” Sarvas said. “The combination of movements allowed us to have the time and space (to shoot and score).”
While both teams had their share of chances throughout the game -- including dead-on strikes in front of each keeper -- the tally remained the same to give the Galaxy a needed advantage going into a decisive second leg next Sunday in Seattle. Starting this season, Major League Soccer has instituted the away goal rule in the playoffs where away goals are the first tiebreaker. So far this postseason, teams that have won the first leg are undefeated, so Sunday’s result gives the Galaxy a boost and the advantage of knowing that multiple scenarios could see them through to their record ninth MLS championship game and a step closer to their fifth trophy.
With the Sounders only scoring one goal in three postseason games to date, and the knowledge that they are tied for the most porous defense of any of the playoff teams this season (50 goals allowed in regular season, tied with New York Red Bulls), it seems almost destined that the Galaxy would reach the MLS Cup this season -- the final of Donovan’s career.
The 14-year MLS veteran announced on Aug. 7 that this would be his final season in what is likely the most distinguished career of an American soccer player. The 32-year-old currently holds the goals and assists record in both the league and for the United States men's national team.
Despite being on the verge of retirement, Donovan has not shown any slowdown and was likely why he was the focus of the Seattle defense -- which prevented him from having any significant impact on goal, but allowed for several attacks from the right side of the field.
“Very clearly their plan was to get people to that side of the field,” said Donovan. “We did a good job – especially in the second half – of exploiting the right side of the field. … If they want to overload on one side then we’ll spread them on the other side like we did today.”
One of the few who benefited from the overload defense was Galaxy defender Robbie Rogers, who was able to roam free for portions of the game and had a number of opportunities in the first half to add to the score line.
“Of course you get frustrated when you create chances and don’t score. But that’s sports,” said Rogers. “I think we can go to Seattle and create just as many chances. We have before, and we are a very good team – so I’m not frustrated going to Seattle.
“We created a number of chances on that side, we were dangerous – and I think we’ll be even better next week.”
It was a feisty affair with four yellow cards handed out -- although that didn’t dissuade fouls from both teams and caused some confusion in the mind of Galaxy boss Bruce Arena.
“As you can see the officiating in these games is important -- I don’t think we quite understand how to deal with this competition and the rules with cards and everything,” said a frustrated Arena after the game. “I think it was a little hectic, but it is what it is.”
Donovan, one of the pillars of the team, felt the aggression is part and parcel of the postseason. But Sunday’s officiating has him warning of an even rougher game when the teams meet next Sunday in the second leg.
“You have to play that way at this point in the year. The officials have made it clear that no one is getting sent off. We have to make sure we are aware of that next weekend and we play with that in mind -- and I’m sure they will too. I’m sure it’ll be even more physical next week and that’s OK -- we can play like that.”
The second leg of the Western Conference final takes place next Sunday, Nov. 30, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Whoever wins will host the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7.
“I was thinking this morning that this could be my final game here, but I’m playing next weekend with the mentality that I want another game here. I am going to give it my all up there,” Donovan said.
“In my dreams, we have a final here December 7. But you never know what will happen in a game -- we had several chances today and hit the post. Next week it could happen again and we could not advance. But the most important thing for me is to give it my all. If it’s my final game next weekend, I want to give it my all and then see what happens.”
The boys in the locker room seem to want to make that dream a reality as well.
“I think there’s enough motivation as it is to win the championships,” said Rogers. “But I know the guys in the locker room love Landon so much and we’d love to let him retire on a high note.