SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders threw everything they had at the LA Galaxy in their bid, Sunday night, to overcome a three-goal deficit in the Western Conference Championship. An untimely penalty kick ended their dream.
Robbie Keane won and then converted a PK midway through the second half as the Galaxy, dominated almost from start to finish by their hosts, advanced to a record eighth MLS Cup final and third in four years following a 2-1 defeat in front of 44,575 at CenturyLink Field.
LA, which won the series 4-2 on aggregate, will be home Dec. 1 against the Houston Dynamo in a rematch of last year's championship game, which the Galaxy won 1-0.
The Sounders, in a near copy of last year's first-round fightback from 3-0 deficit against Real Salt Lake, opened a 2-0 advantage on goals by Eddie Johnson in the 12th minute and Zach Scott in the 57th. They needed one more to pull even in the home-and-home series, but Keane's penalty kick, following an Adam Johansson hand ball on the left endline, provided LA a cushion Seattle couldn't overcome.
Seattle outshot the Galaxy 13-5, but they put only five on frame.
The Sounders, with Johnson at the forefront, were in charge from the opening whistle, playing with great energy and aplomb, dominating possession, winning most of the second balls and keeping LA's backline on its heels for long stretches.
Johnson might have had a hat trick in the first dozen minutes. Fredy Montero, on the left wing at midfield, played him behind LA's backline in the fourth minute, but he blasted over the net. He scored from Christian Tiffert's feed in the 11th minute, but assistant referee Adam Wienckowski's flag was raised – incorrectly, judging from the replay.
Johnson finally got the goal a minute later. It started with a back and forth between the Galaxy box and the midfield circle, with Omar Gonzalez nodding forward a Brad Evans header and Scott first-timing it back into space. Johnson got position on Gonzalez, outbattled him into the box and left-footed past Josh Saunders.
Seattle nearly added to the lead four minutes later when Montero headed a Tiffert cross at Josh Saunders from close range, and the LA goalkeeper dived to push an Osvaldo Alonso drive past the right post in the 32nd.
The Galaxy didn't threaten until the end of the half when Keane, after a give-and-go with Mike Magee, chipped into the goalmouth from the left endline but put it just fractionally too high for Edson Buddle. Moments later, Sounders defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado handled a Magee shot from close range in the box, but referee Mark Geiger let play go on.
The Sounders nearly rallied from a three-goal deficit to RSL in a Western Conference semifinal last year, outshooting the Utah side 26-4, but they scored just twice and exited with a 3-2 aggregate loss. They got to 3-2 against LA 12 minutes into the second half, when Scott stepped in front of Buddle at the right edge of the 6-yard box to nod home Tiffert's corner kick to the near post.
They continued to push forward in search of a third, but the game changed in the 67th minute. Keane, with the ball to the left of the goal, played a game of cat-and-mouse with Johansson, finally firing toward the net. The Swedish defender twisted at the ball, and it caught his left hand. Geiger pointed to the spot, and Keane stutter-stepped and rolled the ball up the middle, past diving goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, restoring LA’s two-goal cushion with 22 minutes left.
That's all LA needed, and Seattle's search for two more goals – with Montero diving over a sliding Gonzalez trying to win a PK, Jeff Parke twice testing Saunders, and David Estrada forcing the keeper to parry a sharp shot in stoppage – was fruitless.
Several Sounders, with Johnson and Alonso the most demonstrative, confronted Geiger at the final whistle as the Galaxy celebrated their conference title in the midfield circle. Alonso, who was cautioned after fouling Juninho in the 75th minute, received a second yellow for his actions and was ejected.