For all the talk of the LA Galaxy slumping towards the playoffs, Bruce Arena’s club showed no signs of rust as they dominated a resilient Sounders team in the first leg of the Galaxy/Sounders playoff matchup. The difference in the match was an amazing and surprising Edson Buddle goal in the 38th minute that caught Kasey Keller off his line and caught ESPN2′s JP Dellacamera and John Harkes by surprise. But the story of the match was defense, in particular how LA handled Seattle’s strikers and allowed very few legitimate chances on goal. Veterans Eddie Lewis and Omar Gonzalez led the way for a defense that helped Fredy Montero disappear in the second half and left Seattle desperately seeking a decent shot most of the match.
But before delving into the match itself, I want to touch on the incredible atmosphere in Seattle tonight. As much discussion as there has been on MLS Talk about crowds and lack of people watching MLS matches on TV, the crowd tonight was Don Garber’s dream. The place looked full and was very loud; although we should not expect any less from the excellent Seattle fans it was great to have an atmosphere in the playoffs that match the occasion. I suspect we will see highlights of this match in many MLS promotional videos.
Both clubs came out seemingly tight, with both committing and creating turnovers that the other club used to create goal-scoring opportunities. The pace of the half was excellent; both clubs went up and down the pitch and rarely did they keep the ball in midfield. Seattle actually could have set the tone early as Zakuani finished off an Alonso shot that Ricketts had blocked, but Zakuani was ruled offsides. If it would have counted, it could have drastically changed the outcome of the match as LA would not have been able to deploy its successful defensive strategy.
It was Edson Buddle that broke the scoreless tie in the 38th minute, a goal that could already be the best in the MLS playoffs this year. The U.S. men’s national team striker collected a pass well outside the box, then turned and blasted a rainbow shot that went past the outstretched arm of Keller and into the top corner of the net. While Keller was a bit off his line, the shot would have been near impossible to stop anyway, as it was perfectly hit. The Most Valuable Player candidate showed why he made the final three for the award with the shot, and I suspect will make the ESPN rotation of highlights in a busy American sports day.
The second half was a repeat of this first for Seattle – numerous times the Sounders were able to advance towards the Galaxy net but could not find the quality or creative shot to tie the match. In fact, looking at my notes for the match, there were very few obvious opportunities for the Sounders in the second half except for an occasional shot that was offsides. A ton of credit should go to Arena’s gameplan but also the play of the Galaxy backline – Eddie Lewis, Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, and DeLaGarza. Because of them, Montero was an absolute non-factor in the second half and Nkufo, Zakuani, and later Jaqua were unable to create chances in the penalty area. Even later on the match when desperation set in for the home side and Galaxy had a tired Beckham playing practically rightback (according to John Harkes), they still had no great chances on goal.
So Seattle has a huge task next week as they travel to Los Angeles down a goal. They need to find a way to solve the Galaxy defense, something they were absolutely unable to do tonight. However, considering the Galaxy’s form coming into the playoffs the number one seed is definitely fallible.
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