This has happened before. Twice, in fact, the Seattle Sounders have won their final game of the season, but did so by a margin not quite large enough to keep it going. Sunday's 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy was a bit different, though.
Unlike those two previous instances, the Sounders actually found themselves in position to advance for a period of time. For about 22 minutes, in fact, the Sounders had the result they needed. Goals from Brad Evans and Clint Dempsey six minutes apart had given the Sounders a 2-1 aggregate-goal lead. They were rolling. They were creating chances. They were the better team.
And then Juninho hit an absolutely amazing ball from about 20 yards out. He's done it before, so it's not totally out of character, but this strike did seem to come out of nowhere.
The game threatened to get away for a few minutes after that. Stefan Frei made two great saves, first on a Landon Donovan breakaway and then on an open Dan Gargan header. Those kept the Sounders' hopes alive and they came oh-so-close to delivering. There were quality looks and close calls, but the Sounders couldn't quite find the back of the net.
It's a painful way to have the season end, cruel almost. But it's worth remembering that this was a wildly successful campaign by any reasonable metric. To look at the way last season ended and to see how well this year went, it's almost hard to fathom. There had been talk of this being a rebuilding year and it ended up being a couple inches away from being historically awesome.
Mourn the loss, but let's see if we can't enjoy the ride at the same time.
Seattle Sounders FC 2 - LA Galaxy 1 (2-2 on aggregate, LA advances on away goals)
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Venue: Xbox Pitch at CenturyLink Field
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Assistants: Eric Boria, Corey Rockwell
Fourth Official: Hilario Grajeda
Weather: Clear and 32 degrees
SEA - Brad Evans 26'
SEA - Clint Dempsey 32'
LA - Juninho (Omar Gonzalez, Landon Donovan) 54'
LA - Marcelo Sarvas (caution) 35'
LA - Jaime Penedo (caution) 90+2'
LINEUPS & STATS
Seattle Sounders FC - Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez; Brad Evans-C, Osvaldo Alonso (Michael Azira 74'), Gonzalo Pineda (Andy Rose 75'), Lamar Neagle (Marco Pappa 79'); Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins
Substitutes Not Used: Marcus Hahnemann, Djimi Traore, Kenny Cooper, Chad Barrett
Total Shots: 11 (Clint Dempsey, 6)
Shots on Goal: 3 (3 tied at 1)
Fouls: 5 (5 tied at 1)
Offside: 4 (Lamar Neagle, 2)
Corner Kicks: 6 (Gonzalo Pineda, 5)
Saves: 5 (Stefan Frei, 5)
LA Galaxy - Jaime Penedo; Dan Gargan, Omar Gonzalez, Leonardo, Robbie Rogers; Stefan Ishizaki (Alan Gordon 74'), Juninho (Baggio Husidic 86'), Marcelo Sarvas, Landon Donovan; Gyasi Zardes, Robbie Keane
Substitutes Not Used: Brian Rowe, Todd Dunivant, Tommy Meyer, Kenney Walker, Jose Villareal
Total Shots: 14 (Robbie Keane, 5)
Shots on Goal: 6 (2 tied at 2)
Fouls: 10 (Marcelo Sarvas, 3)
Corner Kicks: 6 (2 tied at 3)
Saves: 1 (Jaime Penedo, 1)
SOUNDERS FC HEAD COACH SIGI SCHMID
"[It was a] difficult game for us today in terms of result because we came out and won the game. Last [series] we won on away goals - this series we got knocked out on the away goal. I thought the start of the game was theirs for a little bit, but the last 20 minutes of the first half was all ours. We got the two goals - we were close to getting a third, we had some good chances - even when they scored [to make it] 2-1, I felt we were still getting good opportunities, a couple good looks. Andy Rose, a couple from Clint Dempsey on crosses, were really close. I am really proud of the team, I am proud of their effort and I am proud of their fight to the very end. I think these two teams are equal; I think the aggregate score reflects that. I thought we were a little bit unlucky today, and my heart goes out to our fans and our team because I think they've battled and done really well this season and deserve to go to the MLS Cup Final, but that's not the way it turned out."
On the season:
"Supporters' Shield is nice, it's great because it is a reflection of the whole season, it shows we were the best team over the whole season. Unfortunately it decides that the MLS Cup winner is the top team. That's a mountain we haven't climbed yet - I thought for sure this could be our year to climb that mountain. I thought we were very close to it."
On what was said at halftime:
"We've got to continue to play the way we played in the first half. The reason why we got the upper hand is because we started to destroy their attacks on the upper half of the field, which gave us a chance to get forward better. I thought in the second half they started to throw long balls in to expose us and put speed behind our defense, and they got behind a little bit and earned a couple corner kicks. Our goal in the second half wasn't to try and sit and defend."
On Osvaldo Alonso:
"I think the first 45 minutes were great - that shows how important of a player [Osvaldo Alonso] is to our team. At halftime he started to tighten-up a little bit; he felt his hamstring. We didn't know how much we were going to get out of him in the second half. He started to try to manage his time to get through and connect some passes. We needed some energy as well - they got the goal - I could tell Ozzie wasn't able to cover the ground so that's why we made the change."
On DeAndre Yedlin:
"I thought DeAndre was good. I thought defensively he was good, too. In the first half he contained Landon [Donovan]. In the second half, when it was 2-1, we needed him to go forward more, and in the end we pushed it to a 3-5-2 so we definitely wanted him to go higher up the field."
On Marco Pappa:
"I asked [Marco] Pappa to go underneath the two forwards, but he was always on the left wing. Evans came inside, which is not the way I wanted to play in the game. I think Pappa can influence and be helpful to our game; today I thought our team was playing well. When he came in, I thought he tried to have some impact on the game-he hit some crosses for us-but I would have liked to see him more central and underneath."
On next season:
"Every year is a new year. There will be a different group of players and a new group that comes together. You start turning the page now and looking at it, but the pain you feel right now will hopefully motivate us for next year, but we also know we have to improve our team in certain situations. We've got some guys older as well, so we will look at making some changes there, certainly I still think there is a very good nucleus here. We added some good pieces and we will continue to build around that."
On how it feels to end this season:
"Yeah, it feels different. It's disappointing because of the team we had and the season we had. We really wanted to get to MLS Cup. From a standpoint of how you feel at the end of the season, last year we obviously didn't finish well. This year, I think we [played] well in the playoffs and [played] well in the series."
On away goals:
"We didn't have the away goals rule last year, if this was the same as it was last year we would be playing right now. It just works out that way, but it was tough tonight."
On Andy Rose:
"Andy gives you certain energy - he gets forward and gets into the box. His heading is something we felt we could use defensively and offensively, as well. I thought Andy got forward really well and had a good opportunity moving forward. We just wanted to get good energy onto the field so we could keep driving the game."
On the goal of winning MLS Cup:
"There's nothing I want to do more than bring an MLS Cup to the city of Seattle because the fans deserve it and their support has been phenomenal. You heard them even after the game. There's always going to be people who say ‘you need a new coach,' ‘get rid of this guy,' ‘someone else is a better fit.' That's just part of business, you hear that all the time. For me, I want to win a championship here, I want to win an MLS Cup. This year, we're a team that won five trophies in six years. There aren't a lot of clubs who have won five trophies in six years in this league. We got the Supporters' Shield, which is a big one, and we would like to repeat as Supporters' Shield champions next year and make our way to MLS Cup and win it. That's our ultimate goal."
On reflecting on this team:
"I am seeing it as a team that accomplished a hell of a lot, that was pretty consistent from A-Z throughout the season. That played very good offensive soccer, that got solid defensively at the end of the year, and that had a goalkeeper who improved throughout the year. I think Stefan Frei was outstanding tonight. Certainly the Galaxy are a very, very talented team. They are going to be a much different-looking team without [Landon] Donovan next year. They have a lot of emotional things playing into their court as well with Landon retiring and the unfortunate situation of [AJ] DeLaGarza - all of those are rallying points for their team. I feel we can compete with them and I feel we can compete with anyone and we will continue to work to improve our team in any way possible."
On Stefan Frei:
"I thought [Stefan Frei] played really well. I thought he played well in all four playoff games. His confidence grew throughout the season. I think we stuck with him early on when I am sure some people [questioned us]. I think over the last eight or nine games everyone has seen the reason why we made the trade and why we brought him here and the reason why I feel he has the potential to be one of the top goalkeepers in the league."
On his message to fans:
"I just say thank you and we're sorry. We want to win it for them, we really do."
On Clint Dempsey's impact:
"He is a big player who can impact games and change games. Everyone looks at the goal he scored, but he was influential on the first goal because he didn't give up on the play and the one who ended up hitting the ball across for Brad to finish. That's what he is supposed to do - to be involved in the goals we get. It is unfortunate, I am sure he would like to have those volleys back and make better contact, because that's something he is usually pretty good at it. If he hits one of those well, we are looking at a different story right now."
SOUNDERS FC MIDFIELDER BRAD EVANS
On the game:
"On the game, tremendous performance winning the game 2-1. At home we've always seemed to give ourselves a chance at home in the second game and tonight was nothing short of that and just came up a little bit short. [We're] so proud of the performance, proud of the team and we live to fight to next year."
On his goal:
"I don't really remember much; I know that there may have been a corner kick before and I found myself on the left-hand side instead of the right. I think it was some fancy footwork from Oba [Martins] in the box and Clint [Dempsey] not giving-up on a play and just being aware on hoping that somebody be on the other side of the area and just a poacher's goal and hoping that the ball goes in the net. Missing from two yards would've been embarrassing but it gets us on the board and obviously Clint's goal ... puts us in a great position and then [a] free-kick and [the] ball slips through, hits off a post, and we find ourselves chasing a little bit."
On the season:
"When you look back at the season as a whole it seems like forever ago that we started in the opening game. But yeah, definitely proud, proud of the group, proud of the way we fought, endured, came back on multiple occasions. We found ourselves losing big games as well, at New England 5-0. Those are some games that stick out as well but being resilient and being able to find ourselves one goal away from MLS cup I think says a lot about the group. Very proud of the group."
On takeaways from the season:
"This is a great group of guys and a great group of players. You always want to be with guys that come out and fight and play for the fans, play for each other, play for their families. And I don't think we had anybody on this team that took away from what we were trying to accomplish as a group this year. And I think that's a statement and I think that's why went as far as we did. Putting in a good performance in LA, having chances in LA, and then I think if we get one [goal] in LA, I think we advance, but the fact of the matter is that we come back home and we fight and we score two, [I'm] just very proud of this team."
SOUNDERS FC DEFENDER CHAD MARSHALL
On the result:
"We put ourselves in position to advance in the first half getting the two goals. We knew they were going to come at us in the second half. To give-up the set-piece goal, [it] kind of bounces through and it's a good strike off the post and in, it's just disappointing."
On the season:
"It was unbelievable. I'm extremely grateful to the organization, Sigi [Schmid] and Adrian [Hanauer] bringing me here. This year was a blast and one that all the years will be compared to. Disappointed obviously today and it will hurt but very excited for what next year holds."
On what Head Coach Sigi Schmid said to the team:
"Just saying that he knows it hurts right now. There's nothing he can really say to change that but he was proud of the year that we had and looking forward to next year."
On the game:
"It was just a battle; we knew it was going to be especially [tough] when we went up 2-0 and we knew they were going to attack and just a set-piece, a corner-kick that was kind of miss-hit but bobbles through and Juninho hits a great shot off the post. If it's a quarter inch the other way maybe it comes out but that's life."
On his message for the fans:
"This year was a blast, sorry we couldn't get it to next weekend but thank you so much for everything you do for us and it was a blast."
SOUNDERS FC GOALKEEPER STEFAN FREI
On the Galaxy goal:
"We kind of cleared it and it bounced to the top of the box. We were a bit deep there and forgot about that zone, which is a zone that they like to have a guy floating around in anyways. It went through all the masses, I didn't see it until the very end through one of our guys' legs even. An inch further and I probably have it, an inch further out and it probably pings off the post and stays out. I thought we played a good game other than that. In midseason, we probably say that's a really good result and a very well-played game, but it wasn't enough today."
On his 2014 season:
"It was the most important year in my career, for sure. After I've struggled the last three years -physically and also mentally - having a chance to go on a journey like I did and get back up and work on that confidence and everything with it again, you need a lot of people to believe you and give you time to be able to do that, and an awesome team around you to be able to give me a second chance, if you will. So I'm really thankful to have been able to be a part of this team this year and hopefully for many years to come, but it's disappointing tonight."
On his save on Stefan Ishizaki's header:
"The ball comes across and the easy thing would just be to go with the momentum and make yourself big on that post. A lot of players realize that's what's tough for the goalkeeper, to get set and try to cover both sides and be able to react a little bit. Fortunately I was able to get a little bit of a push and then put the ball wide."
LA GALAXY HEAD COACH BRUCE ARENA
On what it took to come back:
"We played pretty well in the first half then a turn of events with a sloppy 10 minutes. I thought they came out fairly passive. We had control of the game, made a couple mistakes and they burned us for it. We told our guys at halftime that we just have to get a goal to advance. Juninho finally hit the goal this year. It was a great goal and we had to hang on for our lives at the end there. The field was difficult to play on tonight. The surface is really slick and challenging for both teams. It was just a matter of grinding it out and having the right mentality, and we accomplished that. This was not going to be easy, by no means, and it wasn't, but we knew the rules."
On what Juninho has meant this year:
"He's had a great year, a fabulous year, and oddly enough, didn't score a goal for us until tonight."
On the key to getting the win tonight:
"Obviously that goal and then the way we were able to defend at the end. I give Stefan Frei a lot of credit. He came up with two big saves on Landon's [Donovan] breakaway and [Stefan] Ishizaki's header. That could've really put them away so he kept them in there. At the end, it got hectic when they sent [Chad] Marshall up and had a lot of big guys in front of the goal. Our guys hung in there and we managed to get the result that we needed."
On LA's defense:
"When you play here under these conditions, you know there's going to be some sloppy play, there's going to be some crazy chances and possibly some crazy goals. We weren't surprised, but again, knowing that if we got a goal back in the second half, we'd advance. We challenged them early in the second half, got some good chances and then Juninho hit the back of the net."
On advancing with a loss:
"I don't really care. We lost here two years ago, too, didn't we? I didn't make the rules, you know? The whole objective is to advance and get to the MLS Cup Final. We've accomplished that and we're going to have a real battle on our hands."
On how they approached this game:
"We tried to come in and win the game. We didn't want to sit back, and we didn't. We came out and were very aggressive. Obviously you know what the rule is and an away goal was important. Shutting Seattle out last week in the first leg was a big factor as well."
On Omar Gonzalez:
"Omar had a good game. I thought Dan Gargan and Leonardo played well. Robbie Rogers had a tough night, but he'll regroup and be ready for Sunday."
On the second half:
"I was surprised. I thought the way Seattle came out in the first half, that they were just going to sit after halftime, drop their whole team back and make it difficult. But that game managed to open up and certainly, once Juninho scored, it really opened up. We had some chances as well to get the second goal."
On Landon Donovan:
"We didn't change anything with Landon [Donovan] the whole game, he just played better in the second half. His second half was really good - his first half was so, so. That's Landon. He's a great player. He's an experienced guy. He's able to deal with the ups and downs in a game and he managed, over 90 minutes, to play real well. It was his running, his vision. He had to do a lot of defending tonight. Everybody did their share."
On the team's celebration:
"To get this result and be in the Final at home, we're proud of that. Again, we have a long week ahead of us to try to get our team recovered and ready to play a tough New England team."
On if experience won this game:
"Experience is a factor. We've been through this a lot this year and I think we've gotten better in the second half of the season. We've been able to protect leads and we did a good job tonight."
On if he still gets excited even though he's been to several MLS Cups:
On how this team compares to the others he's taken to MLS Cup:
"Don't know yet. Until we get through this final game, then we'll be able to summarize what we think about this team and other teams. They have an opportunity to be the MLS champions so we look forward to that challenge. It's going to be a tough game."
LA GALAXY MIDFIELDER LANDON DONOVAN
On where the win stacks-up:
"We haven't won anything yet so this is just another step along the way. The first part was the Salt Lake series, and now Seattle. Nobody has had to do it harder than we have. Those are two very good teams. To beat the best team during the [regular] season in a series like this is very difficult. Now we get one game at home to win a championship. If anybody had said at the beginning of the year that was the opportunity, we would take it in a heartbeat and we are going to go with everything to win it."
On hard-fought battles against Seattle:
"It's special for us. This is a very good team. This is a very good organization. Along with us and a couple others they are one of the top organizations in the league. The way they do things is first-class. Their fan base is first-class. They have talented players all over the field but we are a team full of champions and winners and that's what separates us. We are very proud of that fact and some days it's the guys you expect and other days it's the guys you don't. That's what champions do."
On LA's second-half turnaround:
"We started the game the way we wanted. We put a lot of pressure on them. We played in their half of the field. They really had nothing going on until the goal. The goal gave them some energy then the second goal came. We were under a little pressure there but it didn't change anything from our perspective. We still needed the goal and we wanted to come out in the second half and apply pressure. We knew that the way they played the last month and a half has been very conservative both home and away so we knew they would revert back in that shell and we can put pressure on them so we put a lot of pressure on them."
On patience and determination:
"We have a lot of guys here who have won in their career and that's a big advantage over a lot of other teams including Seattle. They don't have a ton of guys that have won a lot of championships. We know how to win in any scenario and that's what we pride ourselves on. We're not always perfect, we know that, but at the end of the game I look up and Robbie Keane is in our penalty area defending and clearing balls out of the box and not a lot of other teams have guys that do that and put in that kind of commitment to the cause and that's why we are where we are."
On his career being close to finished:
"I'm sort of just in this moment right now. I just want to prepare myself for one last week and do everything I can to help this team win. I want to go out a champion."
On MLS Cup at home:
"It seems perfect, but we are playing a team that I think is the best team in the league over the last 12 games."
LA GALAXY FORWARD ROBBIE KEANE
On finishing the game well:
"We knew before the game that we needed a goal. Them scoring two goals didn't really change much to be honest. The only thing it did do is help us come out and attack a bit more. They were creating a hell of a lot of great chances. I think actually in a weird way them scoring two goals helped us."
On giving-up two goals:
"We lacked concentration. You're most vulnerable when you just scored a goal and that was the case. The 10 to 15 minutes after you just concede a goal is the most important and we weren't focused and they killed us a little bit. Halftime came at a good time for us and we regrouped. I knew we only needed to score a goal anyway and that was the case."