SEATTLE – For the Seattle Sounders, the chance to create the greatest season in MLS history came down to a matter of inches.
And in the end, they came up short.
Seattle beat the LA Galaxy 2-1 on Sunday evening in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship, but their season came to a crushing end anyway, with the Galaxy prevailing on the strength of this year’s new away-goal tie-breaker.
The series – and the Sounders’ season, as it turned out – hinged on a 54th-minute dagger from midfielder Juninho that barely snuck inside the left goalpost.
The result squashed the city’s opportunity to host a raucous MLS Cup next week and the club’s shot at nabbing a historic treble, which was within reach following US Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield victories earlier this season.
The outcome was especially tough to swallow for Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid and his team, considering how tantalizingly close they were to making their MLS Cup dreams a reality. After a rough start in the series opener last week, the Sounders jumped on the Galaxy in the first half Sunday night behind goals from Brad Evans and Clint Dempsey, and were finally in control of their own destiny against the team that had dumped from the playoffs twice before.
All the Sounders needed to do was protect the 2-0 result and they would have advanced.
"I'd just say [to the fans] thank you and we're sorry," said an emotional Schmid during his postgame press conference. "Because we want to win it for them. We really do."
The mood in Seattle’s locker room after the game was certainly one of bitter disappointment. But there was no trace of shame or embarrassment at their performance throughout the Conference Championship against one of the toughest opponents in the league.
“I think we expected them to play a little bit more defensively,” Evans said. “But they came out and played their game. It’s a testament to a confident team and to a veteran group of players that says, ‘We’re not going to sit back. We’re going to push forward and play our style.’”
Added Evans: “We did all we could do. I’m proud of the group and the performances all through the year and all the success ... It’s a little bit painful right now, but we’ll look back on it as a successful season.”
Even after Juninho’s goal, Seattle generated several good looks at nabbing a decisive third goal, but never could manage to finish, something that Schmid and Evans pointed to as making the result even tougher to grasp.
“Even when [the Galaxy scored their goal] I felt we still had some good opportunities,” Schmid said. “I’m really proud of our team, I’m proud of their effort and I’m proud of their fight to the very end … I thought we were a little bit unlucky today.”
Said Evans: “I thought we would definitely get one in the last 10 minutes. But it wasn’t meant to be.”