Three Points: LA Galaxy beat Seattle Sounders in MLS playoff first leg
CARSON, Calif. -- The L.A. Galaxy managed to hold serve in the first leg of the Western Conference finals, prevailing 1-0 over the Seattle Sounders. Marcelo Sarvas scored the game's only goal in the 52nd minute, and given the level of its domination, the Galaxy will be disappointed to carry only a one-goal lead into next weekend's second leg.
Here are three thoughts on the match.
1. L.A. patience finally rewarded, but chances were missed
The Galaxy tried just about every approach they could to break down a stout Seattle defense, and each of them worked to varying degrees. Stefan Ishizaki drove in plenty of dangerous crosses, though his effectiveness waned as the match went on. On the opposite wing, Landon Donovan and Robbie Rogers combined well enough to generate some good opportunities. Sarvas and Juninho were highly effective in the center of midfield.
But for most of the match, something was always missing, be it a critical touch, a smidgen more quality on the final pass or, most importantly, finishing. Robbie Keane squandered three clear chances in the first half. He hooked a volley wide in the fourth minute, shot high from a good position 20 minutes later and then couldn't get the ball out from underneath his feet after being set up by Gyasi Zardes. Zardes came close, as well, forcing Seattle keeper Stefan Frei into a diving save in the seventh minute. The missed chances began to translate into frustration, as L.A. seemed intent on trying to walk the ball into the net, so the first-half whistle came at a good time, as it allowed L.A. to regroup.
It was no surprise then that it took a huge slice of good fortune to finally put L.A. on top seven minutes into the second half. A.J. DeLaGarza found space deep on the right wing. His low, centering feed found Sarvas in the box, and his shot then deflected off Marshall, wrong-footing Frei.
L.A. nearly went two up in the 61st minute, but Ishizaki's free kick found the crossbar instead of the net. The Galaxy also had a glorious chance to pad their lead in second-half stoppage time when Donovan put substitute Alan Gordon in on goal, but his shot was superbly blocked by Marshall.
In the end, L.A. recorded a deserved victory, one that saw it prevent Seattle from scoring a critical away goal. But the Galaxy will no doubt feel that they could have put the series away had they just been a bit more clinical in front of goal. Now they goes to Seattle feeling confident but not with near the advantage they might have had given their territorial dominance.
2. Seattle survives to fight another day
The result will be disappointing to Seattle, but considering some of the obstacles put in its path, things could be much worse.
Seattle was forced to do without not only Alonso, who was left home with an injured hamstring, but also wide midfielder Lamar Neagle, who stayed in Seattle to attend to an undisclosed personal matter.
Alonso's absence was especially felt. While replacement Michael Azira didn't play badly, Seattle missed Alonso's combativeness, as L.A's midfield completely controlled the tempo. Marco Pappa was rendered completely ineffective, as well, and eventually made way for Chad Barrett.
That said, Seattle had a few chances of its own but couldn't take advantage. A goalmouth scramble in the 21st minute saw both Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey get good looks at goal only to be denied by Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
The second half saw the Sounders carve out several chances on the counterattack, but like L.A., they lacked precision in front of goal. Penedo came to L.A.'s rescue again in the 49th minute, getting a piece of Dempsey's shot after the U.S. international had been put through by Martins. L.A. was given in a huge let-off in the 78th minute when Martins pass on the break to Dempsey was off the mark.
Seattle's defense wasn't exactly airtight on the day, given how many chances the Galaxy created, but it proved effective enough to give the Sounders a fighting chance heading into the second leg. Marshall, in particular, was immense.
3. Unsung heroes preserve Galaxy's win
L.A. sustained a few injuries that will give it pause heading into the second leg. DeLaGarza was forced off after 60 minutes with an injured left hamstring. Sarvas made way for Baggio Husidic 10 minutes later.
The changes tilted the match in Seattle's direction a bit more in the latter stages, and while the play of Dan Gargan and Husidic helped preserve the win, special mention must go to Tommy Meyer. It's easy to forget that Meyer was a mainstay in the back the last time the Galaxy won MLS Cup, in 2012, and on this day he reprised those performances. The L.A. defender stepped in quite capably for the injured Leonardo and delivered a key block late.
Penedo deserves praise as well. Sporadic amounts of action are almost tougher to deal with than a barrage, and the Panamanian delivered when called upon.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.