CARSON, Calif. — The Los Angeles Galaxy got what they needed in the first leg of their Western Conference final against the Seattle Sounders Sunday at the Stubhub Center: a win by any means necessary.
Marcelo Sarvas’ goal in the 56th minute came on a deflection and was far from the Galaxy’s best scoring opportunity of the night, as the four-time MLS champions missed several early chances to head into next week’s second leg in Seattle with a better grip on an MLS Cup Final berth.
“Of all the results, that was probably the third best,” said Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan. “Two-zero or three-zero would have been second and first best. But they had a few chances, too, and keeping that team scoreless isn’t easy. The first objection was not to get scored on, even if it ended up 0-0.”
The game played out like a chess match for most of the 90 minutes, although each team showed intermittent moments of boldness that might have tilted the tables their way. But despite dominating possession for most of the game, it was clear the Galaxy’s primary focus was keeping a clean sheet, while the Sounders seemed content with keeping the score manageable heading into the second leg.
“We wanted to come out and put ourselves in a position where we could do some damage at home,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid of his team’s defensive approach. “Obviously we would have rather preferred a tie or a win, but only losing one-nothing, we don’t feel horrible about that.”
But the Sounders’ two best players, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, created several problems for the Galaxy backline, which was bailed out on two occasions by the stellar play of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
Galaxy forward Robbie Keane summed up the importance of Stefan Ishizaki, who finished the game with 12 crosses from open play in 80 minutes, four more than the entire Sounders team (8).
“[Ishizaki] had a lot of drive on his side,” he said. “We said at the start of the game we have to switch and play quickly on Ishi’s side. Overall, it was a good performance for us. They came and tried to keep it tight, trying to catch us on the counterattack and get a goal, but they didn’t manage to do it.”
Sarvas exited the game in the 69th minute with an injury, but after the game he was optimistic about his fitness for next Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field.
“I got hit in my muscle very close to the bone. It was hard when I stepped on my left leg I felt the muscle pulling so I had to stop. I spoke with the doctor and I think we’re going to have to do an x-ray tomorrow. I don’t think it’s something that would keep me out of the next game.”
The Sounders had injuries of their own that kept key players out of the match, as tenacious midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (hamstring) and winger Lamar Neagle (personal matter) created a problem with Seattle depth at midfield. Both are expected to return to the lineup next week.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena looked ahead to next week’s decisive game, and said the tables were now set for the best team to advance.
“I think it was a little bit hectic in this game,” he said. “Now we will have two teams going into the game on Sunday with no one suspended, which I guess was the premise behind some of the decisions today. I will give Seattle credit. Good team. No question about it. It will be a battle on Sunday.”