It took the Sounders only 47 seconds into their playoff game with the LA Galaxy on Sunday to lose that first leg. LA had never seen this Seattle version, but they knew well enough that some very good teams in the league, Columbus for example, had been dusted. The Galaxy took first possession but moments later, Seattle's Nyassi had run onto a ball in the right corner. Amid the idiotic crepe paper, he dribbled into three defenders, passed to Oswaldo, who deked the first man to the left, cut right, and fired a shot just to the left goal side. LA keeper Ricketts dove right, at the last moment, but the ball bounced straight out to Zakuani, who boom, drove it into the net. It was so quick, and true and nothing the long-armed Ricketts could ever deflect. It is a shame the goal did not stand — Seattle might have unleashed themselves this Halloween night.
But Zakuani, and Nyassi, the quickest of the Sounders, were offside on the play — like teenagers, they were too quick, too eager. Ricketts recovered, and given a new life, played brilliantly for the rest of the night, saving the Galaxy from at least three true scores. It was thought LA would hide a bit for this match, saving for the return to Carson City. But they gave the Sounders most of the stage in the first half, and just tried to hold on. Beckham took two very good free kicks, Donovan unleashed from 35 yards a swerving drive, but Keller had all of this. It was to be the Sounders night, and they leaned and leaned on the LA defense.
There were two immediate Seattle problems. One, LA had designated their midfielder Dema Kovalenko to push the boundaries and pound whatever Sounder came his way. Kovalenko loves the job, he loves the "what did I do?" look, and he kept the ground in the midfield a mess. He pushed, cut, and tripped anyone in sight, earning three lectures, finally one yellow, and then LA Coach Arena wisely pulled him before a natural red card.
The second difficulty was the referee Ricardo Salazar, for he has never handled a Seattle game without punishing Fredy Montero, and before Montero, it was that wonderful baiter, Freddy Ljungberg. They start friendly enough, Montero and Salazar, but it is only a moment before they are at each other. Salazar is an easy mark for a veteran squad like LA; they each talked earnestly to him about inequity throughout the match, always staying reasonable.
The Sounders are a year or two away from "reasonable." And it hurt them a bit. LA was bringing every device. Then, in the 38th minute, there was a moment's disaster for Seattle. They should have been up 1-0 and that would have survived the disaster. Instead, it caught them flush in the face. The wonderful LA forward, Buddle, took a 50-yard header from their defender Gonzalez, turned Patrick Ianni, and whacked a Hail Mary shot from 40 yards. Buddle could have been out there alone at 2 am and not hit the net, but this one, it went and killed the night, just over Keller's horrified reach.
LA had what they needed, what they probably only dreamed, a 1-0 lead.They would have gladly settled for 0-0, but this was the best, a loony score they never could have ordered. They dropped off for the rest of the night and played Roto Rooter. Ricketts can lose ten minutes tying his very long laces. LA used every one of its subs to keep the defense fresh and left town feeling very lucky indeed.
The Sounders may have lost Jeff Parke to an ankle sprain, which will hurt their order but if Tyrone Marshall is to replace, he is a true and able veteran. The two teams meet for the final night this weekend, on Sunday again. LA will hope to get a quick score and then enjoy the evening.
There is, of course, another script. The Galaxy still do not want to know how good this Seattle team can be — LA wants to move on, without knowing. If the Sounders can get a first score, all sorts of forces start to show up. Seattle must play this for fun, for speed and cunning and fun. They spent much of the the first match sending balls into the center, where the giant Gonzalez could use his considerable advantage. For this rematch, the Sounders will play down the wings, where giants rarely go.