The Sounders FC season ended in silence.
CARSON, Calif. — Not there yet.
If Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid learned anything from Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, it’s that his team isn’t quite ready to become one of Major League Soccer’s elite.
“We still have to grow up a little bit,” Schmid said. “For us it’s still a matter of maturing, growing up into (being able to play) those big games.”
Desperate for a win in the second leg of a Western Conference semifinal series, Seattle’s old habits of poor finishing and lackadaisical defending returned at the worst possible time. L.A. took advantage with first-half goals by Edson Buddle and Omar Gonzalez, each assisted by David Beckham, as the top-seeded Galaxy cruised to a 2-1 victory despite a late goal by Steve Zakuani.
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In front of a sellout crowd of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center, Los Angeles won the aggregate-scored series 3-1 and will host FC Dallas in the Western Conference final next Sunday for a berth in the MLS Cup.
“Hats off to L.A.,” Zakuani said. “They were a better team. They deserved it.”
Coming into the matchup eager and confident, Sounders FC saw its season end in the conference semifinals for the second year in a row. An 86th-minute goal by midfielder Zakuani ended the team’s postseason shutout streak at 386 minutes, but it was too late to spark a comeback.
L.A.’s clinical finishing made sure of it.
Surprisingly aggressive early in the game, the Galaxy took a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute when Beckham curled in a corner kick in front of the Sounders FC goal. Buddle, who was locked in a battle with defender Tyrone Marshall, was able to shrug off the challenge and nod in a header to double the aggregate advantage.
Los Angeles added to that lead in the 27th minute after Landon Donovan was fouled to earn a dangerous free kick. On the subsequent Beckham cross, 6-foot-5 defender Omar Gonzalez lost his defender and knocked in an open header past helpless goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
“You can’t go and give away two goals so early on,” Zakuani said. “That’s just a mountain to climb.”
Seattle came into the game trailing 1-0 in the series after a home defeat last Sunday. In dire need of a goal, the visitors weren’t able to create many dangerous scoring opportunities in the first half and were outshot 5-3 at the break.
Sounders FC tried to find a spark in the second half, replacing midfielder Sanna Nyassi with designated player Alvaro Fernandez. Pressing ahead, forward Fredy Montero nearly pulled a goal back in the 57th minute, but his open shot from 8 yards out missed high and wide.
Ten minutes later Zakuani had a sparkling chance in front of the net stopped by L.A.’s Donovan Ricketts, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Substitute forward Nate Jaqua and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso also had narrowly missed chances in the frantic final minutes.
“We put them under enough pressure in the last 15 minutes to score three,” said Keller, whose team had a 10-4 edge in second-half shots.
The ineffectiveness against the Galaxy was a common theme throughout the year for Seattle. Sunday’s loss was the fourth in as many league games against L.A. by a combined score of 10-2.
Despite the frustration, the second-year franchise still has much to be pleased with in Year 2.
“I’m very proud of what the team’s done this season,” Keller said. “It’s just disappointing because we know we’re better than these two games.”
• The Galaxy, the only higher seed to win its conference semifinal this season, advanced to 20-2-1 at home in the playoffs. L.A. coach Bruce Arena earned his 18th career playoff win, moving within one of the league record owned by Schmid.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org
GALAXY 2, SOUNDERS FC 1
|Seattle||0 1 — 1|
|Los Angeles||2 0 — 2|
First half — 1, Los Angeles, Buddle 19 (Beckham), 19th minute. 2, Los Angeles, Gonzalez 3 (Beckham), 27th. Second half — 3, Seattle, Zakuani 11 (Jaqua), 86th. Goalies — Seattle, Kasey Keller; Los Angeles, Donovan Ricketts. Shots — Seattle 13, Los Angeles 9. Shots on goal — Seattle 4, Los Angeles 4. Saves — Seattle 2, Los Angeles 3. Fouls — Seattle 13, Los Angeles 12. Corner kicks — Seattle 5, Los Angeles 5. Offsides — Seattle 0, Los Angeles 3. Yellow cards — Beckham, Los Angeles, 8th; Ianni, Seattle, 65th. Referee — Baldomero Toledo. Assistant referees — C.J. Morgante. Craig Lowry. 4th official — Kevin Stott. A — 27,000.
Seattle — Kasey Keller, Leo Gonzalez, Tyrone Marshall, James Riley, Patrick Ianni (Nate Jaqua, 77th), Steve Zakuani, Osvaldo Alonso, Sanna Nyassi (Alvaro Fernandez, 46th), Nathan Sturgis (Michael Fucito, 64th), Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo.
Los Angeles — Donovan Ricketts, A.J. DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin, Eddie Lewis, Juninho, David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Dema Kovalenko (Chris Birchall, 74th), Mike Magee (Todd Dunivant, 80th), Edson Buddle (Tristan Bowen, 71st).