SEATTLE – The song blasting through the LA Galaxy locker room on Tuesday at Qwest Field was Lynyrd Skynryrd’s bar-room stomp Call Me The Breeze, an unmistakable ode to skipping town and moving on down the line.
And that seemed fitting for the Galaxy while they celebrated yet another win over the Sounders, this time a gritty but impressive 1-0 win on enemy turf that tightened their grip on a rivalry that’s suddenly become very one-sided.
This one, however, was a little different than the two regular season wins last season and two more during the postseason. This time, the Galaxy crashed the First Kick party in surprising fashion, forging ahead through a steady downpour without the services of starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, striker Juan Pablo Angel or the defensive backbone of Gregg Berhalter and Omar Gonzalez.
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“There’s not another team in this league who would go without their two starting center backs, their starting goalkeeper and one of their Designated Players and get a win here,” midfielder Landon Donovan said. “We’re very proud of that.”
The announced crowd of 36,433 left Qwest Field sullen for the third time in as many matches against the Galaxy, who won for the fifth consecutive time in this rivalry dating back to last season.
They’ve been especially impressive in the Emerald City, posting a 4-0 win during the 2010 regular season before they returned for a 1-0 win in the Western Conference semifinals last fall. The loss was the first in three season openers for the Sounders, and the first time they’ve allowed a goal in any of those matches.
[inline_node:330808]“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to beat a playoff team in this league five times in a row, three of which are at a home field that everyone says has the best home field advantage in the league,” Donovan said.
“We relish this. If they want to open the upper deck and add more people to the stands, we would love it. We love this atmosphere, we love this environment, we love playing here.”
Was it a pretty win? Hardly. But it certainly was an impressive one for LA, who pieced together a lineup that seemed ripe to wilt under the First Kick lights in a hostile environment. But the defensive line held, the backup goalkeeper was fearless and the offense generated enough ball control and the one perfect scoring chance for Brazilian midfielder Juninho in the 58th minute to skip town with the win.
“I prepared like it was any other day, but it was a good night for me,” said goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who made five saves to keep the Sounders at bay. “Look at our back line and you can see our depth. You look at our back line and you’ve got guys who’ve played in MLS Cup finals all the way through. They saved me a couple of times.”
With Gonzalez sidelined with a shoulder injury and Berhalter injured and skipping this trip entirely, the Galaxy used Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo and Todd Dunivant to hold the Sounders in check. Although the Sounders certainly threatened – forward O'Brian White skipped a shot wide of the post for the Sounders’ best scoring chance in the 72nd minute – the Galaxy back line was surprisingly stingy, and didn’t even need to call veteran Frankie Hejduk in for late reinforcements down the stretch.
“Our back line is very good,” manager Bruce Arena said. “I thought Leonardo and DeLaGarza had quite a good game, and Saunders had a good game in goal. For the night, it was a pretty steady performance by everyone.”
Said Franklin, “Sure Omar and Gregg weren’t there … but the whole team stepped in. It shows Bruce has built a team where anyone can step in and play well.”
As for the Galaxy’s hex on the Sounders at Qwest, Arena downplayed the edge his club has enjoyed in the last year, but didn’t hesitate to state the obvious with a smile.
“It’s not easy to play here,” Arena said. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t win.”