The LA Galaxy booked a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of MLS' Western Conference Final on Sunday, setting up an interesting scenario for next week's return leg with an eye on the MLS Cup.
The new away-goals rule means that if the Galaxy score once in Seattle, the Sounders will need three to progress to the next round. That fixture, which will be played on Sunday, should provide fans with a lot more drama and excitement than today's nervy affair.
Seattle started the match on fire, immediately applying high pressure and displaying a lot of physicality in the duels. DeAndre Yedlin was booked after just three minutes for an apparent elbow on Robbie Keane, although the veteran certainly contributed to the incident.
Inside MLS was hardly surprised:
The ball went up and down the pitch really well in the opening stages, and Keane came close to opening the score just one minute later, but his acrobatic effort missed the target. The MLS' Twitter feed had a nice angle of the action, right behind the goal:
Gyasi Zardes then forced Stefan Frei into action for the first time with a well-taken shot, but the goalkeeper was equal to the task.
The Sounders' first chance came from a tricky corner that wasn't dealt with well by the hosts, before Jaime Penedo dove onto the ball to avoid disaster. Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey then forced the 33-year-old into a great double save, prompting this tweet from MLS' feed:
Sounders Matchday gave the stopper his due:
Keane wanted a penalty in the 31st minute, but replays showed nothing to suggest any of the Sounders defenders had done anything wrong. Martins then got his foot onto a long ball from a free kick, but his shot went over the bar.
Seattle had the better chances at this stage of the match, but Penedo continued to make one fine save after the other. Not to be outdone, Frei produced one final stop before halftime, reacting well to keep out a corner kick.
Still scoreless at halftime, Goal's Ives Galarcep thought the Galaxy did a good job controlling possession but that the hosts were fortunate to have Penedo manning the goal:
Some great passing from Martins and Dempsey had the Panama stopper stealing the spotlight five minutes into the second half, saving a cheeky chip from the latter. Galarcep warned the hosts:
Los Angeles committed more bodies forward in the second half to take advantage of its advantage in possession, and Frei had to intervene when a loose ball nearly bounced off a Sounders player's leg and into the net.
He was powerless to deny Marcelo Sarvas' deflected effort, however, as the hosts took the lead 52 minutes in. His shot bounced off Chad Marshall's foot and past Frei, as shown by Raza Deportiva:
Frei was furious with his defenders for not picking up the free man, and ITV's Kristan Heneage believed he had every right to be:
The Galaxy immediately pushed for a second and came close as a Landon Donovan cross was nearly deviated into the net by both Sarvas and Zardes. Martins and Dempsey were receiving no help in the attacking third of Seattle, making the hosts' defensive assignments that much easier.
For all of its efforts, Seattle hardly produced any danger of note. Martins had a chance on the break but went looking for his strike partner, wasting a window for an opportunity with a poor pass.
The hosts easily held possession thanks to the Sounders' inability to chase the ball into open areas, and NBC's Arlo White was worried their tendency to hang around the box instead of clearing upfield could lead to even more trouble:
The level of the match dropped following a host of substitutions, with neither team looking particularly threatening in the attacking third. A 1-0 win for Los Angeles seemed the logical conclusion with 10 minutes left to play, and both teams were content to defend and head for the dressing room with such a score.
KICK TV's Jimmy Conrad congratulated the hosts, but he's sure the fans will see a whole different match in the return leg:
A one-goal lead is a slim one for LA, but the new away-goals rule gives the team a big advantage heading into the return match next Sunday. A single goal would force Seattle to score three to advance, and against an in-form Penedo, that will be easier said than done.
CenturyLink Field is one of the toughest stadiums to visit in the MLS, but after the first leg, the Galaxy should feel good about their chances of qualifying for the MLS Cup on Dec. 7.