Short of Sounders FC making it to the MLS Cup, won by Real Salt Lake over the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday at Qwest Field, soccer fans couldn't have asked for a much better ending to this first season.
It took nine months. It took a final 120 minutes. It took seven rounds of penalty kicks before this first Major League Soccer season in Seattle finally came to an end.
It took an improbable missed penalty kick by the Los Angeles Galaxy’s almost-automatic Landon Donovan. It took one more remarkable stop by Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando, diving to his right to smother Edson Buddle’s penalty kick.
It took one last penalty-kick conversion from RSL defender Robbie Russell, who followed Buddle’s miss by sliding a shot low and to the right to beat Galaxy backup goalie Josh Saunders.
This first MLS season in Seattle finally ended with 46,011 fans, many of whom stood for most of Sunday’s MLS Cup, cheering wildly for Real Salt Lake’s upset win — 1-1, 5-4 on penalty kicks — over the Galaxy.
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“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said of the atmosphere inside Qwest Field. “I’m going to tell you, man, I was out taking pictures on my [cellphone] of the ‘March to the Match,’ and just the logo and the branding and the celebration of the sport in this city has been nothing short of spectacular.”
Short of Sounders FC making it to this game, Seattle soccer fans couldn’t have asked for a better way to end this first season.
Maybe this game wasn’t poetic, maybe it wasn’t some flawless diamond, but it was tight as a fist and full of scoring opportunities and almosts.
It won’t be remembered as part of David Beckham’s greatest hits. He played on a painful right foot, but the Galaxy midfielder, his sport’s most visible presence, still bent just enough dangerous corner kicks and free kicks to give fans a thrill.
He assisted on Mike Magee’s goal and converted the first attempt of the round of championship-deciding penalty kicks.
But as the game wore on, it seemed as if the Galaxy wore out. In the final hour, Real Salt Lake was the better team. It didn’t have the glitter of the Galaxy, but it got the result it deserved.
“I really think we could have won this in regulation,” said Rimando, the game’s MVP. “We were that good in the second half and kept possession and really played some good soccer and [were] unfortunate not to get a second goal.”
In the second half, speedy Salt Lake found another gear and the Galaxy played an exhausted-looking last hour. Robbie Findley started running free and finding space behind the Galaxy’s talented back line.
In the 64th minute, the fans got the tying goal they wanted, the goal that was the harbinger of the drama that followed.
In a scramble in front of the Galaxy goal, the second of two shots by Real Salt Lake’s Yura Movsisyan bounced to an open Findley, who smacked a shot that beat keeper Donovan Ricketts.
Like the game, the goal wasn’t beautiful, but it was well-earned.
Championship games rarely are classics. The games are more defensive-minded. The team that makes the last mistake usually loses. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena called this MLS Cup “a battle of attrition,” blaming the wet, cold conditions, in part, for a game that “wasn’t good at times.”
But what it lacked in grace, it made up for in gusto. In the last half, RSL threw everything it had at Saunders and the crowd seemed to get louder with each fevered rush.
This was the final celebration of the sport, the last night of a magical soccer season.
“I think the city of Seattle really embraced the MLS,” said Arena, who once played for the minor-league Tacoma Tides. “It is a beautiful stadium and I think this was a great moment for MLS. What more can I say? I played here and lived here in the ’70s, and I think pro soccer should have never left Seattle. I’m happy it’s back.
“I remember the old days of the Kingdome, going to games and watching the Sounders. I think Seattle’s always been a great city for professional soccer. The fans really embraced the season and the team, and it’s a fantastic story for MLS.”
And after nine months of games, after moments of magic from Lionel Messi and Frank Lampard, from Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljungberg, after all of the sold-out nights and the Sounders’ desperate playoff run, it almost felt like the season didn’t want to end.
It went deep into this last night, deep into the penalty kicks, until Russell made the final shot that silenced an unforgettable soccer season in Seattle.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com