The First Kick didn’t go quite as planned for the Seattle Sounders.
The Los Angeles Galaxy maintained its mastery of the Sounders, defeating the Rave Green 1-0 in a tight, absorbing match.
LA now owns Seattle, beating them five times in two seasons, including playoffs. The Galaxy prevailed again Tuesday at Qwest Field in a match where Sounders should have picked up at least a point. The game was an even match, despite the contrasting styles — Seattle controlled more of possession and Los Angeles was dangerous and clinical on the counter.
“Obviously for us that’s disappointing right now,” Coach Sigi Schmid said. “Sometimes you just have a boogey team, you know, a team that just, for some reason, it just doesn’t work for you. And right now, they’re that team for us.”
Overshadowing the first game of the 2011 Major League Soccer season was the abrupt departure of forward Blaise Nkufo, one of Seattle’s three designated players.
The Sounders announced his exit less than an hour before the kickoff, generating a flurry of questions. Sounders owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer said the decision was mutual, but he acknowledged that the Swiss marksman did not figure in the team’s plans. Nkufo was unavailable for comment.
Schmid said he spoke to Nkufo a few days ago. He said both agreed it wasn’t working, insisting there were no issues and no problems. “It was a mutual decision,” Schmid said.
The departure of Nkufo, 35, a former Swiss national team player and top scorer in Holland’s first division, frees up money for the cap-constrained Sounders. They might want to spend it on a proven goal scorer.
The difference Tuesday came down to finishing — a theme that had plagued the team during the preseason. Seattle put six shots on frame, testing LA’s second-string goalkeeper Josh Saunders on several occasions. Five came in the first half.
“I thought we forced some good situations, forced some saves,” Schmid said. “We were around it. The Galaxy, I thought, were dangerous all night on the counter attack.”
But Saunders, who replaced the injured Donovan Ricketts, came up big when Seattle tried to power the ball past him, slip past him or redirect just beyond him.
Nothing worked for the Sounders. Everything went according to the script for Saunders and the Galaxy.
Fredy Montero and O’Brian White, who replaced Nkufo up front, each generated dangerous scoring opportunities. In first half, Montero fired right at Saunders inside the box from a corner. White, inside the box, received a pass from Steve Zakuani who had rounded the defenders from the left. But White couldn’t get a foot on it as LA’s defenders closed him down.
Perhaps underscoring the mood of the evening, Erik Friberg, who started as a center midfielder for the injured Brad Evans, blasted a bending half-volley from 25 yards in the 44th minute. It went just wide of the left post.
The Galaxy, fielding a veteran team, absorbed Seattle’s first-half pressure and struck on the counter. Forward Chad Barrett gave Seattle’s defense the most fits in the first half, as he seemed to carve out space on the left flank and send in some dangerous crosses. U.S. National team star Landon Donovan was quiet for most of the first half but offered one surge into Seattle’s 18-yard box that nearly led to a goal.
For the most part, though, Seattle’s defense contained the Galaxy’s big guns — except for Juan Pablo Angel, who was sick and didn’t travel with the team.
The Sounders had some optimism heading into the second half because for the most part, they had the better run of play in the first half, moving the ball well and keeping possession, spending more time in LA’s half and creating the most chances.
But the crafty Brazilian midfielder Juninho ruined the fiesta. In the 58th minute, he stepped up and cracked a bending, right-footed shot that beat Kasey Keller. Juninho’s goal was one of two shots the Galaxy directed on frame — but it sucked the noise right out of the boisterous sellout crowd.
“We got beat on a great goal, but at the same time we had lots of chances to get in this game,” said Keller. “On the run of play and the chances, I think a draw might have been a much better result out of this.
“Landon (Donovan) had a great chance that he hit the crossbar on. We had some very good chances. That’s probably the most frustrating thing is that we really feel that we should have got something out of this game today.”
Seattle chased the game from that point. The Galaxy sat back and absorbed the pressure. Schmid soon sent out Roger Levesque, Lamar Neagle and Miquel Montano for Alvaro Fernandez, White and Zakuani respectively.
“When it was 1-0, the objective wasn’t to get another goal as much as it was to keep the score 1-0,” Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said. ” That’s what we had to do. The conditions weren’t easy and we were against a team playing in front of a crowd that’s supportive.”
White created Seattle’s best opportunity in the second half. He received a pass from Zakuani who was racing down the right flank, but his first touch sent it just wide of the left post.
Seattle has now lost five times to the Galaxy, including two playoff matches last season, and three regularseason matches over two seasons. The Sounders’ one victory last year came in a U.S. Open Cup match. LA leads the all-time series 5-1-1.
The Sounders next play Saturday in New York where they face the Red Bulls and French superstar Thierry Henry. Seattle is 2-1-1 mark against New York.