In a tale of two halves, the Seattle Sounders were able to eke out a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy at Centurylink Field on Sunday. While the first half was anything but pretty for the Sounders, their explosion in the second half gave the Galaxy a serious challenge. Sharing the spoils was probably the fairest result given each team's dominance during both stages of the game.
The game started in the Sounders' favor as their familiar 4-4-1-1 formation matched up against Bruce Arena's patented 4-4-2 and for the early stages it was the Sounders who enjoyed the most success. With Gyazi Zardes pushing high on the right, Andreas Ivanschitz found plenty of room in the opening stages. With Juninho and Steven Gerrard occupied in stamping their authority on the midfield against Gonzalo Pineda and Osvaldo Alonso, this left holes between the LA center backs that Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey gleefully exploited for the opening five minutes. After the initial salvos though, the Sounders' attack went deathly quiet for the remainder of the first half.
A large part of that was due to the Galaxy's high line and their center backs' insistence on chasing Dempsey into midfield. As Gerrard and Juninho found the best defensive zone for stifling the Sounders midfield, Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo stepped up higher to compact the space between the Galaxy lines while also taking on the important task of isolating Dempsey and Martins from the rest of the Sounders offense, intercepting play or ensuring that passing options kept play in front of the Galaxy low block.
On the left, as Zardes pushed forward to combine with Giovanni dos Santos, AJ De La Garza adopted an aggressive defensive posture far up from the Galaxy's established defensive line to contain Ivanschitz. The Sounders' main offensive outlet turned to the right side of the field where Lamar Neagle found himself completely outmatched by Robbie Rogers at almost every turn.
The solid defense of the Galaxy came with a price as it neutered the secondary runs from Juninho and Gerrard, which has been one of the most effective tactics in their past portfolio against the Sounders. With those two playing it conservative and controlling the midfield from deep, this left one of the duo of Robbie Keane or dos Santos tucking into the midfield to act as the main creative hub. With Zardes and Sebastian Lletget serving as the main attacking hubs, cutting in from wide for the Galaxy, it was an easy task for the Sounders defense to mop up attacks while still reserving space to ensure Keane and dos Santos weren't finding their own open pockets of space.
All that changed at the start of the second half and it's unclear whether that was great fortune or tactical astuteness on the part of Sigi Schmid. With Robbie Rogers leaving the game due to injury, the Sounders suddenly found themselves with the entire right side of the field to call their own. LA's backup leftback, Dave Romney had nowhere near the pace to match up with Neagle, who ran circles around the flank, nor did he have the experience to match up with a hyper-aggressive Tyrone Mears who burned him repeatedly.
With the Galaxy defensive line stretched, the Sounders attacked the back post with at times almost reckless abandon. Dempsey would drift off the back shoulder of Omar Gonzalez occupying DeLaGarza while Ivanschitz and Leo Gonzalez flooded into the space now afforded them on the left. Both of the Sounders' left-sided players found themselves with handfuls of quality attacking chances early in the second half.
As the half wore on, fatigue on the part of Neagle and Pineda started to hurt the Sounders' ability to sustain these attacking thrusts. That changed again when Sigi Schmid brought on Marco Pappa and Erik Friberg. The Swede provided fresh legs to prop up the midfield while Marco Pappa decided that the best way to play this game was to play it on another planet entirely.
The Guatemalan was given free reign through the midfield and he immediately scattered the Galaxy defense. Passing circles around Romney with Friberg and Mears, he dragged Juninho out from the low block to deal with his threat repeatedly leaving vast space in the midfield around Steven Gerrard. Gerrard to his credit was extremely adept at closing passing lanes, preventing through balls and the familiar 1-2 quick play that Martins and Dempsey have used to shred opposing defenses in the past.
But for all the Galaxy's astuteness, nobody could stop Pappa. Which was quite fitting considering the way he delivered a corner kick to perfection in the 93rd minute to give the Sounders the draw.