The Galaxy won by losing Sunday. But Bruce Arena will take it just the same.
“I don’t really care,” the Galaxy coach said after his team advanced to the Major League Soccer’s title game next weekend despite losing to the Seattle Sounders, 2-1, at a frigid CenturyLink Field. “I didn’t make the rules. The whole objective is to get to the MLS Cup final. We accomplished that.”
And they accomplished it thanks to a rule that gives added emphasis to away goals. So when the Galaxy and Sounders finished their two-leg Western Conference playoff tied 2-2 on aggregate goals, the Galaxy was declared the champion after scoring the only road goal in the series.
Still, the Galaxy must have felt a bit sheepish, right?
“Not in the least,” Landon Donovan said with a smile after setting up what proved to be the deciding goal.
It came nine minutes into the second half when a Donovan corner kick bent untouched into the 18-yard box. The ball skipped off the slick artificial turf and out of the penalty area, and was met by Galaxy midfielder Juninho, who charged between two Seattle defenders and unleashed a right-footed blast that struck the near post and ricocheted into the net.
It was a fortuitous play for a number of reasons. For starters, Galaxy captain Robbie Keane ordered Donovan to take that kick instead of Stefan Ishizaki, who had been struggling with corners all night. And for Juninho, a defensive midfielder who has one of the hardest shots in the league, the goal was his first in 14 months.
“We’ve been waiting for Juni to get one of those good strikes on target in a good spot. And he hit a great shot,” said Donovan, who picked up his league-record-tying 14th playoff assist on the play.
The goal erased a pair of Seattle scores that came in a six-minute span of the first half. And Clint Dempsey played a big role in both.
On the first, Dempsey got the ball near the right edge of the six-yard box, only to have Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo come off his line to challenge him. Dempsey stayed with the play, though, and got off a pass that hit the left foot of Galaxy defender Dan Gargan and bounced to the front of the net, where a sliding Brad Evans knocked it in to give Seattle a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.
It was the first goal Penedo had allowed in the postseason. But it wouldn’t be the last, with Dempsey doubling the score on a blistering shot from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Penedo slid over to make the save on that one, only to lose control of the ball and allow it to bounce off his left arm and into the open goal.
“We had control of the game and made a couple of mistakes and they burned us,” Arena said. “We told our guys at halftime we just have to get a goal to advance.
“It was just a matter of just grinding it out and having the right mentality. We knew the rules.”
And the implications. Because with the win — er, loss —the Galaxy was able to put off Donovan’s retirement one more week.
“In the few minutes at halftime that I had time to ponder, I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t it,” said Donovan, who announced in August this season would be his last.
Now he has a week to ponder Sunday’s game with the New England Revolution at the StubHub Center.
“I really want to go out a champion,” he said “It seems prefect. But we’ve got to win it. So that’s our challenge.”