CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy take a three-goal advantage on the Seattle Sounders into Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference Champioship (9 pm ET; ESPN, TSN2/RDS2 in Canada, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com). But even with that cushion, they know it's not over.
They need only look back nine years, to the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, when the Galaxy – coached at the time by current Sounders boss Sigi Schmid – took a four-goal lead on San Jose less than 15 minutes into the second leg, then watched the Earthquakes roar back for a 5-4 victory.
LA captain Landon Donovan and Todd Dunivant were part of that Earthquakes side, which dropped a 2-0 decision in the opener at the Home Depot Center, then conceded to Carlos Ruiz in the seventh minute and Pete Vagenas in the 13th at Spartan Stadium in San Jose.
The Quakes pulled even in the second leg by halftime, scored a third five minutes into the second half, then got a last-minute aggregate equalizer from Chris Roner to force overtime. Rodrigo Faria's golden goal vaulted San Jose into the conference final, and they went on to capture their second MLS Cup title, beating Chicago at the HDC.
“I remember it being a crazy, surreal thing,” Dunivant said. “We were down, 4-0, and we were able to get two goals back before halftime, which was really key, because it gave us hope going into the second half. We never said we were going to get it back all at once – it was kind of a slow, methodical thing.”
Most teams would fold in such circumstances, but the Quakes kept pushing forward, pummeling LA with 23 shots on Spartan's tight confines, and the tide turned quickly.
“You could feel the momentum going our way, and it was sort of unstoppable,” Dunivant said. “All the little plays started going our way. We kept putting in crosses, kept making it difficult and eventually got the breakthrough. Once it went to overtime, we were pushing and they were on their heels.”
Jeff Agoos got the first goal for San Jose, in the 21st minute, Donovan tallied in the 35th, and Jamil Walker's breakaway in the 50th instilled real belief. The Galaxy sure doesn't want the Sounders, who came up just short in their comeback from a 3-0 first-leg loss to Real Salt Lake in last year's Western semifinals, to build that kind of momentum in front of their home fans Sunday evening.
“It teaches you that anything can happen. And it really is true,” said Donovan, who assisted Faria's 96th-minute winner. “LA, after they scored a couple of goals, kind of went into a defensive shell. And that's not something we're going to do.
“Our intention is to go there and actually win the game. We're not going there to lose by a goal or lose by two goals or tie the game. We're going to approach it like we would any other road playoff game, which is we're going to be solid defensively, we're going to make sure our shape is good, and we're going there to win the game.”