The Seattle Sounders both won and lost in their MLS Cup Playoffs showdown with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday night.
The Sounders won the game 2-1, but the Galaxy advanced to the MLS Cup based on aggregate goals and the tiebreaker of road goals scored. Los Angeles extended its winless streak away from home to six matches, but that is a concession it will gladly make to face the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup.
Los Angeles won the first leg 1-0, so Seattle was backed into a corner entering play Sunday. The Sounders had to win by at least two goals to advance, although a 1-0 victory would have been enough to put the series into extra time. A one-goal win by the Sounders in which the Galaxy also scored would send Los Angeles through based on road goals scored.
That is exactly what happened.
The Sounders got a boost before the game even started thanks to their raucous home fans. MLS doesn't quite inspire the same type of passion as European soccer does in most locations, but that cannot be said about Seattle fans.
The MLS Twitter feed captured the fans getting ready for the game outside the gates:
Goalie Stefan Frei commented on his team's fans and the boost they provide, via Justin Lester of SoundersFC.com:
Them being so close to you, you do feel like they are right behind you and they have your back. They’re ready to step on the field and cover you if they need to, so to speak. When we attack, especially towards our fans, for some reason we like to score on that side. It has to do with the fans just being there and giving us that extra push to try to find the back of the net.
Any questions about whether Los Angeles would sit back in front of those hostile fans and try to advance with a scoreless tie were answered right away. The Galaxy pushed forward a number of times in the opening 15 minutes, largely because of Seattle mistakes, as Matt Pentz of The Seattle Times noted:
To Seattle's credit, it defended those attacks and prevented a crippling early goal, via Ari Liljenwall MLSSoccer.com:
Clint Dempsey set up Brad Evans for the first goal of the game in the 26th minute. Dempsey's pass right across the front of the goal was perfectly placed, and Evans finished to send the crowd into a frenzy and tie the series at 1-1.
Liljenwall and John Boyle of The Herald in Everett, Washington, described the goal:
The MLS Twitter feed captured Evans' celebration:
That was far from the end of the Seattle push. Dempsey scored another goal just moments later, but he was called offside, and then he set up Obafemi Martins for a clean look that just missed. Liljenwall and Pentz broke down the action:
It was just a matter of time before Seattle scored another with the pressure it was putting on Los Angeles, and that is exactly what happened when Dempsey buried one at 31 minutes. It gave Seattle a 2-0 lead in the game and 2-1 lead in the series aggregate. Boyle and Larry Stone of The Seattle Times described the Dempsey masterpiece:
The MLS Twitter feed also captured Dempsey celebrating:
The Sounders took a 2-0 lead into halftime, but Liljenwall noted that it was far from a safe margin as the second half began:
Neither team made any substitutions to start the second half, which was somewhat surprising from Los Angeles' perspective considering how much it struggled in the opening 45 minutes.
Clearly, the Galaxy knew what they were doing, because they stunned the crowd nine minutes into the second half with a beautiful goal off a corner kick to cut the game's deficit to 2-1 and bring the series back into an aggregate tie at 2-2. However, it gave the Galaxy the all-important road goal they needed.
Juninho buried the shot from just outside of the penalty box. MLS had the highlight of the goal, and Pentz set the scene for the final 30 minutes:
Landon Donovan had a great chance to knock out Seattle on a breakaway. Liljenwall and Pentz described the action:
Speaking of Donovan, his assist on the Los Angeles goal put him in rarefied air, via Paul Carr of ESPN:
Los Angeles continued to force the issue offensively and got yet another golden opportunity to score a devastating goal from the Sounders' perspective, but Frei made a brilliant save on a header attempt.
As the game entered the stretch run, the Sounders started to get fresh legs on the field in an effort to pick up the pace and find that magical goal. Pentz passed along all the substitutions for Seattle:
The Andy Rose substitution almost worked perfectly, as Pentz described:
The LA Galaxy noted just how close Seattle came to picking up the critical goal:
Four minutes of stoppage time were added after Dempsey sailed a shot over the crossbar in the final minutes. Seattle had a couple more quality chances, although Donovan did as well on the other side, but the scoring was done for the day.
Stone attempted to summarize the somewhat-confusing tiebreaker rules:
The MLS Twitter feed then set the stage for what's to come next, and Galaxy fans have to be thrilled that the MLS Cup is at Los Angeles' home stadium:
As mentioned, Los Angeles has not won away from home for six matches, but that no longer matters with one game to win it all in front of its fans.
Another championship would be an incredible way for Donovan to end his career.