The LA Galaxy had been gifted a first-half goal, and were doing well repelling a Seattle Sounders attack that had them on their heels throughout the second half. It was an effort that appeared enough for a tight victory in Saturday night's critical Western Conference showdown in front of 56,097 at CenturyLink Field.
Three minutes into stoppage they conceded another corner kick, the sixth of the half, and just like that -- Marco Pappa serve, Brad Evans flick, Chad Barrett finish -- they'd been handed a 1-1 draw that was enough to confirm their postseason plans but might have been a death blow to their Supporters' Shield hopes.
It was a good result given how dominant the Sounders were after the break, how many times they nearly conceded an equalizer, and how many big plays goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts pulled off. To the players, it felt more like a punch to the gut.
“Disappointed we didn't win the game. Simple as that,” captain Robbie Keane said when it was done. “The hard work that everyone put in to get a clean sheet, the effort we put in to win the game ... first of all, we have to stop giving away corners the last minute of the game. You have to avoid giving corners. Definitely two points lost.”
They could be costly points, too. The Galaxy (14-9-9) restored their lead in the Western Conference, a point ahead of FC Dallas, but are second in the Shield race to the New York Red Bulls, who also have 51 points and hold the tiebreaker with 15 victories. FC Dallas and New York have four games to play, while the Galaxy have just two.
They did clinch a playoff berth, for what that's worth.
“Oh, well, I think we're going to have a parade in downtown L.A. tomorrow,” head coach Bruce Arena jabbed to media in Seattle when asked about the postseason. “We're a team that expects to be in the playoffs, to be honest with you. Obviously, it's an achievement for a team in such a competitive league this year, and conference, and that's good, but we certainly want to accomplish a little bit more than being in the playoffs.”
Keane wasn't moved at all.
“Not even interested,” he said. “We should have won the game.”
The Galaxy were ahead thanks to Keane's 17th MLS goal this year, a 36th-minute finish after Sounders center back Zach Scott misplayed a square ball just above the Sounders box. Seattle was all over L.A. after the break, pumping balls into the Galaxy penalty area from all directions repeatedly threatening to score; especially after Pappa came on in the 66th minute.
Ricketts came up big in both halves, and it defied logic how Seattle didn't score in the 86th minute, when A.J. DeLaGarza cleared a tough-angled ball from Barrett off the goal line that ricocheted point-blank off Omar Gonzalez and somehow cleared the crossbar.
The Sounders' persistence paid off in the 93rd, when Evans flicked Pappa's corner kick into the goalmouth. The onrushing Barrett, a former Galaxy striker, got his knee to the ball.
“We defended well,” Keane said. “It's always going to happen playing away from home, they're going to have more possession. They had possession of the ball, but it was just kicked into the box. We dealt with it fine. But I keep saying football is not about one half, it's not about 90 minutes, it's about 90 minutes-plus, and you have to always be focused.
“These are the games we need to be winning. When you put the effort in, you want to be coming put of there with three points. We deserved the three points, the way we defended as a team, but it wasn't meant to be.”