Jubilant as they were in defeating Real Salt Lake in the first round of the playoffs, the Sounders have to be equally as despondent with the start of the Western Conference finals Sunday night in Los Angeles.
With a pair of goals from English hero Robbie Keane, the defending champion Galaxy clobbered the Sounders 3-0 in the first leg of the aggregate-goal series, meaning Seattle will need to similarly overwhelm the Galaxy in the second leg in Seattle Sunday night.
Given the smooth, veteran execution the Galaxy displayed Sunday, that seems unlikely.
In the extra minute of stoppage time for a dull first half that seemed destined to be 0-0, the Galaxy shook off the doldrums with a brilliant score.
Fed the ball by a back-heel pass from Christian Wilhelmsson in front of the goal, Landon Donovan dribbled forward nearly to the end line next to the near post before pivoting to scoop a cross high to Keane. His leaping header from five yards blew past Seattle goal Michael Gspurning, who was late to the far end of the goal near where Keane was stationed. That ended Gspurning’s playoff shutout streak of 225 minutes.
Keane punctuated the score with a celebratory cartwheel and somersault to enliven the Home Depot Center crowd in Carson, CA.
The Galaxy applied the hammer in the second half with two goals three minutes apart.
In the 64th minute, Keane broke down the middle and fed Sean Franklin, who was in behind the defense. Franklin hit it across with his first touch for Mike Magee, who made no mistake with his finish, and third goal of the postseason. Gspurning had little chance to stop it. Magee scored the only goal in the regular-season finale between the clubs, a 1-0 win Oct. 28.
Three minutes later, Gspurning burst from his line to try to run down a loose ball, but was half a second late, and the deflection, already headed goalward, was nudged in from a foot away by Keane, his fourth goal of the playoffs.
The Galaxy was the aggressor throughout. Seattle was outshot 13-7 and 7-4 on goal.
In the 31st minute, Osvaldo Alonso had an open shot from 25 yards. In the 50th minute Brad Evans rose above the defense for a strong header on a corner kick from Mario Martinez, but Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders made saves.
In the 57th minute, Alex Caskey cleared a dangerous ball from Donovan in front of the goal. In the 71st minute, Gspurning dove to punch away a Marcelo Sarvas shot, and Jeff Parke slid to clear a ball off the line after Donovan’s shot slipped past the keeper in the 76th minute.
In the Eastern finals, Houston pounded D.C. United, 3-1. That was a good outcome for the Sounders, who would have the home field advantage against Houston, should both teams advance to the MLS Cup Dec. 1. But that seems a little moot at the moment, since the Sounders would have to get four against the Galaxy in the 6 p.m. Sunday game, even if they could pitch a shutout.