Marcelo Sarvas scored a 52nd minute goal to lift the LA Galaxy to a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in the first leg of the Western Conference finals on Sunday. But considering how much the deck seemed to be against the Sounders coming into the game, the result might not seem so bad.
The Sounders were without two key contributors as Osvaldo Alonso missed the game due to a hamstring injury suffered in the second leg of the conference semifinals and Lamar Neagle was excused from the team in order to deal with what the team called a "serious personal matter." Both Alonso and Neagle are expected to be back for the second leg next Sunday.
Despite their absences, the Sounders managed to hang tough with the Galaxy for the first half and if not for an amazing double save by Jaime Penedo on Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, they might have gone into halftime with the lead. Penedo robbed Dempsey again shortly after halftime, swatting away a close-range chip attempt.
The Galaxy made Penedo's efforts pay off. Despite the Sounders packing the penalty box with defender, A.J. DeLaGarza managed to get free along the sideline and find a wide open Sarvas near the top of the penalty area. Sarvas took one touch to settle the pass and fired a shot that deflected off Chad Marshall and got Stefan Frei leaning the wrong way.
The Sounders did a little better pushing numbers forward over the final 30 minutes or so, but the best chance came from the Galaxy in stoppage time when Alan Gordon got behind the defense. A tackle by Marshall was all that stood between the Sounders and a 2-0 deficit.
Galaxy lineup: Jaime Penedo; AJ DeLaGarza (Gargan 61), Omar Gonzalez, Tommy Meyer, Robbie Rogers; Stefan Ishizaki (Gordon 80), Marcelo Sarvas (Husidic 69), Juninho, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes.
Goals: Sarvas (52)
Sounders lineup: Stefan Frei; Deandre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez; Brad Evans (Anibaba 89), Gonzalo Pineda, Azira (Rose 81), Marco Pappa (Barrett 63); Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins.
1. Losing Alonso was huge: Not so much because of how the Sounders played defensively -- they were mostly solid -- but because of what Alonso brings to the transition game. Micheal Azira played well, but there's a reason he's only played about 600 minutes this season: He's limited. Azira made all the clearances he needed to make and never really got beat, but the Sounders had a hell of a time getting out of their own end and that's something Alonso really helps accomplish.
2. If you're going to pack nine in the box, you can't allow Sarvas that much space: Look, the Sounders played well enough defensively, but the Galaxy still managed to get at least three really good looks. Aside from Sarvas' goal and Gordon's chance, there was also a header from Gyasi Zardes that hit off the goal post (Stefan Ishizaki also hit the crossbar on a free kick). But let's talk about Sarvas' goal ... he was about 16 yards out, the Sounders had like nine guys in the penalty area and no one was anywhere near him. That just can't happen and you can bet that will be what the Sigi Schmid and crew are talking about all week.
3. All that said, this is wide open: The Galaxy are undeniably in the driver's seat right now, but a single goal changes this game immensely. The Sounders have often talked about simply wanting to go into the second leg with a realistic chance -- something they've failed to do with remarkable frequency -- and that's exactly what they have. The Sounders are probably going to open up the entire stadium, which means a crowd of anywhere between 40,000 and 60,000 could be on hand. If the Galaxy come in expecting to sit on their lead, well, that could go very badly. Of course, that's not how the Galaxy play and is not what we should expect.