SEATTLE — When the final whistle blew on the Galaxy’s season Wednesday, Bruce Arena ripped a gray-and-blue wool cap off his head and stalked quickly off the field alone.
In 12 seasons in Major League Soccer, Arena had never coached a team that bowed out one game into the postseason. But it wasn’t the 3-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders that bothered him as much as the way the Galaxy lost it.
“We absolutely gift-wrapped that game for them,” Arena said. “Our play in front of our goal was atrocious. We were shockingly poor.
“It’s a game we should have won.”
Instead, Seattle converted three mistakes into three goals — the final one by Erik Friberg in the 73rd minute snapping a 2-2 tie and sending the Sounders on to the Western Conference semifinals against either FC Dallas or Vancouver.
Arena and the Galaxy, meanwhile, will head home to begin working on next season.
“We have no one to look at but ourselves,” said Arena, whose team had won three of the last four MLS titles, including the 2014 crown.
The Sounders and Galaxy entered the postseason heading in different directions, with Seattle riding an eight-game unbeaten streak that earned it a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season and the Galaxy winning just one of its last seven to tumble from first to fifth in the conference standings.
But if the teams took widely divergent paths to get to Wednesday’s elimination game — the MLS version of a wild-card playoff — they looked pretty even in a first-half shootout in which they combined for four goals in the first 22 minutes.
On the Sounders’ first score, Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts came well off his line in pursuit of a long cross from Friberg, only to mishandle it when defender Omar Gonzalez cut in front of him. The loose ball bounced straight to Clint Dempsey, who didn’t miss, giving the Sounders a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute.
It wouldn’t be the Galaxy’s last defensive mistake. Seven minutes later, Ricketts didn’t even bother moving after Nelson Valdez eluded the mark of Steven Gerrard, then got his boot on the end of a 35-yard free kick from Andreas Ivanschitz, pushing it across the goal mouth and into the net at the far post.
“Not good,” Arena said. “Shocking mistakes.”
Gyasi Zardes helped the Galaxy answer both times, threading the ball between two defenders to Sebastian Lletget, who scored in the sixth minute, then settling a one-hop Juninho pass just outside the 18-yard box and whistling a right-footed shot by Seattle keeper Stefan Frei in the 22nd minute.
The first half wasn’t even halfway over and it was already the highest-scoring playoff game between the Sounders and Galaxy, who have met three times in the postseason with the Galaxy winning each time.
It wouldn’t win this one, though, with the end coming in painfully familiar fashion for the Galaxy, with two defenders failing to clear the ball on the deciding goal.
The play started with Tyrone Mears sending what should have been a harmless cross into the box. But the Galaxy’s A.J. DeLaGarza headed it straight up in the air, and when it came down fellow defender Leonardo also failed to clear it. The loose ball eventually found its way to Friberg, who rifled home a left-footed shot from about 18 yards to end the Galaxy’s season.
It was the ninth time in five games the Galaxy had yielded a goal in the final 25 minutes. But this was the most painful one.
“If you’re going to give away goals like that, you don’t deserve to win,” Arena said. “This game was there to win.”