SEATTLE — Juninho’s goal in the 58th minute stood to give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders in the first match of the 2011 MLS season.
Despite a 6-2 disadvantage in shots on goal, Juninho made the Galaxy’s biggest chance count in front of a crowd of 36,433 at Seattle’s Qwest Field, the largest ever for a Sounders game at home.
A flurry of pregame news preceded MLS First Kick, the third consecutive year Seattle has hosted the season’s first match. First and foremost was the unexpected departure of Sounders FC Designated Player Blaise Nkufo. The move was announced less than two hours before kick-off and the reason was unspecified.
In addition to the Nkufo news, several lineup changes came to light over the course of the day. For the Galaxy, Juan Pablo Angel missed the match due to illness, and defensive stalwart Omar Gonzalez joined his teammate due to a right shoulder sprain. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts missed the game with a hamstring injury. All three players stayed in Southern California.
On Seattle’s side, Steve Zakuani passed his fitness battle and was in his familiar position at left midfield. Brad Evans, however, did not and watched the match in street clothes. Swedish newcomer Erik Friberg replaced him in the central midfield.
The lineup changes, kept under wraps by their respective head coaches, added intrigue to an already highly-anticipated matchup of Western Conference rivals.
Seattle held the better of possession for most of the first half, but did not have anything to show for it. Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders recorded five first half saves for LA, while the Galaxy didn’t record a shot on goal.
That changed quickly, as Kasey Keller was tested within the first minute of the second half.
The Galaxy took the lead through Juninho in the 58th minute, with Todd Dunivant earning the assist. It was the second goal from distance scored by Juninho against Seattle – his “no regard for humanity” goal similarly victimized Keller in 2010. Keller got a glove on this shot, but it was not enough to prevent the goal.
Seattle attempted to answer, with Osvaldo Alonso shooting a rocket just over the crossbar minutes later. Landon Donovan nearly made it 2-0 for Los Angeles shortly after, hitting the corner of the goalpost in the 65th minute.
O’Brian White had Seattle’s best chance of the second half. Nkufo’s replacement in the starting lineup redirected Zakuani’s cross just wide in the 72nd minute. Substitute Roger Levesque nearly tied it soon after, just failing to get a foot on Montero’s far-post cross.
Saunders made one last save to preserve the victory, diving near post to save an errant header from his own defender and assure LA the victory.
Both teams face a quick turnaround before their next league matches. The Sounders fly out Thursday for a Saturday match against the New York Red Bulls, while the Galaxy return home for a match against the New England Revolution on Sunday evening.
LA -- Juninho 1 (Todd Dunivant 1) 58
LA -- Chris Birchall (caution; Reckless Tackle) 24
SEA --Erik Friberg (caution; Reckless Foul) 44
SEA -- LeoGonzalez (caution; Reckless Tackle) 46+
LA -- David Beckham (caution; Reckless Tackle) 93+
LA Galaxy -- Josh Saunders, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo, Todd Dunivant, David Beckham, Chris Birchall, Juninho, Landon Donovan, Chad Barrett (Jovan Kirovski 79), Mike Magee (Michael Stephens 76).
Substitutes Not Used: Paolo Cardozo, Frankie Hejduk, Bryan Jordan, Miguel Lopez, Brian Perk.
Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, James Riley, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Alvaro Fernandez (Roger Levesque 63), Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg, Steve Zakuani (Miguel Montano 84), Fredy Montero, O'Brian White (Lamar Neagle 79).
Substitutes Not Used: Servando Carrasco, Patrick Ianni, Zach Scott, Terry Boss.
Referee: Alex Prus
Referee's Assistants: Greg Barkey; Paul Scott 4th Official: Mark Kadlecik Time of Game: 1:52
Weather: Rain and 44 degrees
On Sunday, March 20, the Galaxy will host the New England Revolution in their home opener, presented by Pechanga Resort & Casino, at 5 p.m. at The Home Depot Center. The first 15,000 fans will receive 2011 magnet schedules. Tickets are available for that match, starting at $25. BUY NOW