The Seattle Sounders won the battle, but the LA Galaxy won the war. Again.
The Galaxy got the result they needed in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday, losing 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders at a chilly CenturyLink Field but advancing to MLS Cup thanks to Juninho’s 54th-minute away goal that tied the series 2-2 on aggregate.
The Galaxy will look to become the first club to win five MLS titles when they host the New England Revolution in MLS Cup on Dec. 7 at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. This marks the MLS-record ninth Cup appearance for the Galaxy and third in the past four years, and will be the third championship match played between the Galaxy and Revolution (2002, 2005).
The result also marks the third time in five years the Galaxy knocked the Sounders out of the postseason (2010, 2012), and ended Seattle’s bid for a unprecedented treble. The club was looking to become the first team in MLS history to win the MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield and US Open Cup in the same season.
Both sides made two changes to the lineups that started last weekend’s first leg in Southern California. Seattle saw midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle return to the lineup, while the Galaxy inserted defenders Dan Gargan and Leonardo for an injured A.J. DeLaGarza and Tommy Meyer, respectively.
The match got off to a choppy start in surprisingly chilly conditions in Seattle, where the temperature at kick off was 31 degrees. It marked the coldest home game in Sounders franchise history.
Seattle midfielder Brad Evans gave the home crowd a surge in the 26th minute, however, when he tapped home an easy goal to pull Seattle level on aggregate, 1-1. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins started the play, combining near the top of the box before Dempsey eventually beat LA goalkeeper Jaime Penedo to a deflected ball in the right side of the area. Dempsey collected and turned toward the empty net, sneaking a ball past a pair of Galaxy defenders and to the back post, where the onrushing Evans finished with ease.
Seattle nearly scored again in the 29th and 30th minutes. Martins had the first chance, rifling an open 20-yarder high and wide. Neagle had the second look, curling a 15-yarder from the left side of the box that was turned away by a diving Penedo at the back post.
The Sounders eventually got their second goal in the 32nd, when Dempsey buried a half-volley to give Seattle a 2-1 aggregate advantage. Defender DeAndre Yedlin collected a Dempsey flick on the right wing, aiming a low cross into the middle that LA center back Omar Gonzalez deflected toward the top of the box. Dempsey pounced on the clearance, smashing a 20-yard volley that bounced off both Gonzalez and Penedo before tucking into the bottom right corner of the net.
LA managed to find a slight foothold before the halftime whistle, with forward Robbie Keane forcing Seattle ‘keeper Stefan Frei into a diving save in the 37th minute and Leonardo pushing a 10-yard shot just wide in stoppage time.
The Galaxy upped the pressure to start the second half and Juninho scored the series’ decisive goal less than 10 minutes after the break. The Brazilian midfielder collected a loose corner kick at the top of the box, slamming a first-time shot past a diving Frei, off the left post and in.
The goal was Juninho’s first in 18 postseason games, and his first in MLS play since September 2013.
LA almost put the series away in the 56th and 65th minutes, but Frei came up with a pair of big saves to keep Seattle’s hopes alive. Donovan had the first look, getting played in behind on the left and racing into the box before Frei stoned Landon Donovan's shot from 15 yards out. The Swiss ‘keeper came up with another crucial stop nine minutes later, making a diving block on Stefan Ishizaki’s open eight-yard header of a Donovan cross.
The Sounders made a desperate late push for a series winner, but LA handled the pressure, ensuring their return to the Cup next weekend in Southern California.