By Scott French
CARSON, CA. — The Seattle Sounders didn’t have a comeback in them this time. Maybe next week.
The Sounders head home for the second leg of the Western Conference final needing to overcome a 1-0 deficit after Marcelo Sarvas sent the dominant Los Angeles Galaxy to victory Sunday afternoon at StubHub Center. They have to be pleased the difference is so small.
The Galaxy ought to have scored three goals, perhaps more, but Stefan Frei came up big on a couple of occasions, the crossbar kept a Stefan Ishizaki free kick out of the net, and Chad Marshall made a big stop on Alan Gordon in the final minutes to keep things close ahead of Sunday’s clash, which will determine which side is home for the Dec. 7 MLS Cup title game.
The last time the teams met at this stage, two years ago, LA romped to a 3-0 home triumph, then held on for a 4-2 aggregate victory in Seattle en route to its second successive league championship.
“We have always said to our team that we’ve got to put ourselves in a position after game one that we can wrap it up in game two . . . ” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, whose team rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 2-2 draw at StubHub in the penultimate regular-season game, a pivotal result in winning the Supporters’ Shield. “We’ve always come up with a positive result, and we have game two at home. (In 2012) when we were in this position, we lost, 3-0, so this is a lot better.
“We know we’re capable at home, and our fans are going to be behind us. It’s going to be packed (at CenturyLink Field), and I think that will help us.”
Sarvas scored in the 52nd minute and the Galaxy limited Seattle to just a handful of chances, the best back-to-back attempts inside LA’s 6-yard box by Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins that goalkeeper Jaime Penedo swatted away midway through the first half.
The Galaxy were in charge nearly the entire way, but the Sounders provided them little space to create their attack, effectively shutting down Landon Donovan much of the match, and conceded just three shots on goal.
“We wanted to make sure we came out of the game and put ourselves in a position we could do some damage at home,” Schmid said. “Obviously, we would have preferred to tie or get a win, but only losing 1-0, we don’t feel horrible about that. We’re disappointed for sure, but we don’t feel horrible.”
The Sounders went without Osvaldo Alonso, whose ailing hamstring hadn’t healed enough for him to make the 18-man game roster, but Gonzalo Pineda and Michael Azira were solid in the holding-midfield role. Transitioning into a coherent attack proved difficult, especially against a Galaxy defense that posted its third successive shutout.
“Maybe we need to be more aggressive and play forward earlier,” Pineda said. “Sometimes we make too many touches in the midfield. We need to play forward with Oba and Clint . . . When (the opponent) is at home, they try to push a lot, and we maybe need to be smarter. At home, we’ll be different.”
The Sounders also were without Lamar Neagle, who returned to Seattle before the game to deal with a “serious personal matter.” He and Alonso are expected to be available for next week’s clash.
The Galaxy did not get through the match unscathed. Right back A.J. DeLaGarza exited after an hour, a precautionary move after he tweaked his left hamstring in the first half, and Sarvas was pulled in the 69th with a hip injury.
Seattle was fortunate not to lose Zach Scott, who picked up a yellow card for a foul on Robbie Keane in the 37th minute, then committed four more fouls that might have come with a second caution. Referee Kevin Stott had words with the center back but did not send him off.
“I thought we benefited a little bit,” Schmid acknowledged. “In most games, I think that referee would have pulled that yellow, so I’m not going to pretend I didn’t see that . . . We were fortunate that Zach stayed on the field.”
Sarvas tallied seven minutes into the second half, collecting a pass back from A.J. DeLaGarza on the right, taking his time to line up the shot, then firing toward the left post. The ball caromed off the outside of Chad Marshall’s left leg, leaving no chance for Frei.
The Galaxy might have doubled the advantage five minutes later, when Donovan sent a ball through the goalmouth just ahead of the sliding Sarvas. Or four minutes after that, with Ishizaki bent a 22-yard free kick off the underside of the crossbar. Or in the final moments, when Donovan played Gordon into the goalmouth, and Marshall slid to deflect the ball wide.
The Galaxy had far more possession (60.5 percent) and a 20-10 shot advantage, and they created far more chances, largely emphasizing the right wing through Ishizaki and DeLaGarza. They might have been ahead before halftime if not for sprawling Frei saves on Gyasi Zardes in the seventh minute and Rogers in the 45th.
One goal was enough to satisfy LA.
“The first objective was to not get scored on, even if it ended 0-0,” Donovan said. “Getting a goal was important, and then (we were) a little unlucky. Not quite sharp enough to get the second, but we’re confident. We’ve been there twice this year, we were thoroughly dominant (in a 3-0 win in late July) and then we were the much better team for 86 minutes (in the regular-season finale, a 2-0 Sounders win). We’re full of confidence going there. We know we’re going to get their best shot, and we look forward to it.”
The Sounders created just one good first-half opportunity, in the 22nd minute, but goalkeeper Jaime Penedo made back-to-back, point-blank stops on Dempsey and Martins.
Penedo also went down to save a potential own goal in the 12th minute, when Tommy Meyer’s header from a Marco Pappa corner kick ricocheted off Juninho and toward the net.
Dempsey had the Sounders’ best chance after the break, taking a backheel from Martins in the box in the 49th minute and trying to chip from an abrupt angle on the right. Penedo parried the ball away.
“Throughout the game there are spells when you have possession and you’re taking the game to them, there’s spells (in which) there’s transitional-play counterattacks,” Dempsey said. “It’s a back-and-forth game, and I thought we should have scored. I thought I should have scored the two chances I had.
“But at the same time, we’re only going to get more players back to be 100 percent fit and have everybody available for selection. We still have everything to play for in the game at home.”
Scott French has covered soccer for more than 30 years and MLS since its inception, with stints for Soccer America and MajorLeagueSoccer magazines and daily newspapers in Southern California. He covers the Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com, Soccerly.com and L.A. Soccer News.