Juninho’s second-half goal proved decisive as Seattle won the night 2-1 but fell to the Galaxy on the away-goals tiebreaker, falling one step shy of the MLS Cup final on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
Here are my first impressions:
– The away-goals rule giveth, the away-goals rule taketh away.
Seattle survived its bare-knuckle Western Conference semifinal with Dallas by the skin of the away-goals tiebreaker.
Sunday night in the conference championship round, it experienced the flip side.
The rule is new to MLS this season, one meant to discourage negative play. And it punished Seattle for its cautious tactics last weekend in Carson, Calif, when it lost 1-0.
In truth, the tiebreaker was an appropriately coin-flip way to decide a hard-fought series between two even, worthy foes.
It was a night of narrow margins and shots being deflected within inches of crossbars. A bounce one way or the other, and Seattle is through to its first MLS Cup final.
But none of that is going to be of much consolation to the Sounders or their fans, though, the ones who watch their dream of becoming the league’s first-ever treble winner come up a goal and a game short.
– Goals change games
This was a game that needed a goal to set its plot in motion. The first 20 minutes were tentative, neither team exactly sure of how hard to push and afraid of making a decisive mistake.
The breakthrough came 27 minutes in, on a sequence just as disjointed as the opening salvos had been. First an Obafemi Martins penalty-kick appeal came to nothing, then Dempsey fired off a quick shot from a tight angle. The deflected dribbled across an empty net, and Evans pounced to put Seattle in front.
The cheers were still bouncing around the stadium when the Sounders carved another clear-cut chance – Dempsey freeing up Martins with a back heel – then another – Lamar Neagle’s well-placed shot that Jaime Penedo had to scoop off the turf.
Dempsey doubled the lead himself shortly afterward.
In less than four minutes, Seattle had taken the lead on the night and on aggregate. A series that had been previously tentative and tactical freed opened itself up for a grand finale.
The pendulum swung in the other direction nine minutes after the half on Juninho’s decisive, go-ahead goal.
His strike cut the Seattle lead to 2-1 on the night, knotted the series at 2-2 on aggregate and put L.A. through on the tiebreaker.
– Even in defeat, Seattle’s big stars lived up to their billing
Dempsey rode into town last season with a hefty contract and even larger dose of hype.
His 15 goals and 10 assists in the regular-season – and the way he added a touch of flare to nearly even match – were nice, to be sure.
But these were the nights that Seattle brought Dempsey here for.
Its star forward had been shut out through three playoff games, going silent for long stretches and, even worse, putting a handful of golden opportunities wide of the net.
Sunday night, Dempsey played lead facilitator to Seattle’s surge as both a creator and scorer, smashing the goal that put the Sounders ahead off Penedo’s hands and over the line. His stoppage-time bicycle kick bounced a few feet wide of winning the series for Seattle, but his was still a strong overall performance.
At the other end of the field, DeAndre Yedlin balanced his two-way act well, picking his spots to aid in the attack while also keeping Landon Donovan in check.
This may have been his last game for his hometown club before leaving Tottenham Hotspur, but Yedlin went out on a high note.