So, LA Galaxy went to Seattle, into one of the best (and, for LA, most hostile) atmospheres in the history of MLS playoffs, and came away with a one goal victory. Despite all of the pre-match hype about Seattle’s pace, and midfield possession, and wing play, and how hot they were down the stretch, as I predicted, the Galaxy dictated the flow of the match and go back to Home Depot Center in the driver’s seat.
Certainly, the LA wing-backs couldn’t keep up with Zakuani and Nyassi, but their midfielders cheated back (Donovan and even Beckham were very helpful in defense) and by the end of the match LA were effectively playing a 4-5-1 with sometimes all eleven in their own half clogging up the pitch and frustrating Seattle’s offense. Seattle had a couple of meaningful efforts on goal — Ricketts’ reaction save of the Montero header in the first half after injuring his shoulder a few minutes earlier probably saved the match for LA — but nothing suggested they were prepared to take over the match and win it.
LA on the other hand easily could have won this one 2-0 or even 3-0. The winning goal came from a phenomenal individual effort by Edson Buddle, who chested down a long header about thirty meters from goal, turned, and volleyed a perfect ball to the far post and into the net. It was reminiscent of Clint Dempsey’s wonder goal at Craven Cottage for Fulham in the Europa League against Juventus. In addition, Donovan had a rocket from well outside the area that forced a punch save from Kasey Keller; and Juninho just missed wide off a great one touch-pass build up, that showed in a nutshell why LA is so dangerous in post-season play.
All of this makes the pundits’ dismissal of LA going into the playoffs even more inexplicable. Christopher Riordan on the majorleaguesoccertalk.com podcast expressed “shock” that people on the internet were still picking LA. He and co-host Richard Farley both picked Seattle, Riordan saying it was an “easy choice” to pick them, predicting a 2-0 first leg. Heh.
A final note on the atmosphere and support for the Sounders in Seattle. It was unbelievable, breathtaking. I’ve never heard or seen a crowd like that for an MLS match. Beckham reportedly said afterward that it was the first time he felt like he was playing in a European venue in North America. Seattle has the greatest supporters in the league and they showed their spirit in amazing fashion on Sunday night.