BY Stanley Holmes 09:56PM 10/31/2010

Seattle falls to LA in first leg of playoffs

The defeat in the first leg of the two-match playoff series puts the Sounders under enormous pressure to win in LA or go home.

Sounders striker Fredy Montero and referee Ricardo Salazar during the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals on Halloweed night against Los Angeles. (Drew Sellers/Sports Press Northwest)

Before more than 35,000 fans packing Qwest Field on Halloween night, the Sounders just weren’t scary enough.

Seattle fell 1-0 to the Los Angeles Galaxy in a tense and physical match that was decided on a wonder goal by forward Edson Buddle. The defeat in the first leg of the two-match series puts Seattle under enormous pressure to eke out a win at the Galaxy’s home turf next week.

That could prove to be a frightening proposition against the team that won the Supporters’ Shield for compiling the best record during the regular season. And certainly a disappointed Sigi Schmid could only put on a determined face. After all, history has not looked too kindly on the Sounders’ brief moment in the playoffs. It remains winless for more than 300 minutes in post-season play dating back to last year’s inaugural season.

Is that a big deal? Probably not. But it will take a flawless performance to beat LA. So, the fact the Sounders effort was flawed is a good thing. It means Seattle still has a chance if they can play better. Schmid certainly thinks it’s possible based on the chances his boys created, though he admits it is going to be tough.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed with the result,” Schmid said. “I thought we created more opportunities than they did. Hats off to Edson and he just turns, hits the ball and it went in. But we’re down one-nothing at half time and everything is still possible for us.”

Seattle clearly will need to raise the level of their play if they plan to defeat Los Angeles. Amped out by the second-biggest crowd for a conference playoff game, the Sounders certainly put out the effort. They wanted to win badly.

But execution counts even more when it comes to the playoffs. And the Sounders couldn’t execute when it counted to win the first leg of the Western Conference semi-final match — a match they really needed to win.

The Sounders put LA under enormous pressure in the first half. They forced Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts to make seven saves — two that were extraordinary reflex saves in the 23rd minute. At other times, Seattle’s final pass and its finishing failed them and they squandered opportunities.

“You could say he (Ricketts) was the difference in the game,” said LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. Ricketts made eight saves — a season-high record as Seattle outshot Los Angeles 15-10. “He was good.”

At the same time, Los Angeles played a physical game and pushed Seattle out of its tempo. They closed down its fearsome foursome — Fredy Montero, Steve Zakuani, Sanna Nyassi and Blaise Nkufo. The LA defenders denied them space and time to connect passes and closed down their midfield, forcing Seattle to play more direct.

“They were very disciplined,” Zakuani said. “Sometimes you won’t always play your best game. I don’t think anyone can say they played their best game tonight. As a team, we really didn’t move the ball like we can move it.”

Seattle paid dearly for its missed chances. In what might be the goal of the season, Galaxy’s Buddle turned around Sounders defender Patrick Ianni in the 38th minute and fired a 35-yard dipping knuckleball that floated over Kasey Keller and fell into the net.

The Galaxy’s defense then clamped down in the second half.  Defensive backs Eddie Lewis and Sean Franklin contained Seattle’s outside threats. Neither Zakuani nor Nyassi were able to get behind them as they have been able to do against other teams. Seattle tested Lewis often, who is retiring at the end of the season. But the aging former U.S. National Team player, who spent much of his career playing in England, held his own against the much faster Zakuani.

LA’s more experienced players then began to take control of the match and Seattle’s efforts in the second half proved to be less threatening — though they continued to make a big effort. Substitute Nate Jaqua nearly scored late in the match, but then so did LA’s Juninho, who just missed the far corner of the net following a fluid series of passes that carved up the middle of Seattle’s defense.

“Our defense was terrific. Donovan (Ricketts) was good when he needed to be and our midfield totally controlled the game,” said LA’s Landon Donovan. “We have guys with a lot of experience who know how to win games like this.”

Indeed. Experience translates to execution when it counts. And no amount effort can overcome that.

But Zakuani says Seattle is not ready to give up.

“We’ve been able to get out of tough situations all season,” he said. “There is nothing to fear from LA and we think we are just as good as them.”

The Sounders have one more chance to prove that to be so.


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