The Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders are bedecked with star players. But last weekend, in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals, it was the grunts who won the day.
Us folks here in Seattle want to crow about how we took L.A.’s stars out of the attack. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan were absolute non-factors in the game. The pair combined for only three shots (none on goal). Rendering that dynamic duo rarely dangerous, at home nonetheless, is a true testament to Seattle’s newfound commitment to defense. However Galaxy fans could claim the exact thing.
Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are now scoreless in three playoff games. However, L.A. didn’t exactly shut Seattle down. Oba and Deuce combined for six shots, three of which were on target. Only sublime keeping from Jaime Penedo and the rub of the green kept Seattle off the score sheet. Coach Sigi Schmid always talks about the paramount importance of creating chances and, considering his bona fides, I’ll take his word for it. Thus Oba and Deuce are bound to get hot eventually. Let’s hope it’s very, very soon.
As both sides’ stars were taken out of the game, the yeomen made their mark. L.A.’s Marcelo Sarvas scored the lone goal and Robbie Rogers (four shots, one on goal) and Stefan Ishizaki (numerous deadly through balls and crosses) were the Galaxy’s most dangerous attackers. Seattle’s grunts made their mark on defense.
Any conversation about the hustling grunts from last week’s game is incomplete without mention of Zach Scott. Despite the Twittersphere being all, well, atwitter over Scott not getting that second yellow, he played a fine game. It’s the playoffs. It’s a huge rivalry. It was chippy. Could Scott have gotten carded a second time? Hell yes! The man attacked every Galaxian who dared approached him. That’s how Scott plays and it works. Did Scott deserve a second yellow? Well Taylor Twellman sure thought he did, but the Buddhists teach us to divorce ourselves from the concept of “deserve.” The whole situation was blown out of proportion with Omar Gonzalez running his mouth claiming referee Kevin Stott declared he wouldn’t give Scott a second yellow no matter what. Gonzalez runs his mouth, he does that. And he’s an expert at second yellows.
The edge this weekend may go to Seattle’s supporting cast. We did not have Lamar Neagle, he of nine goals and nine assists, available. His presence could make a huge difference. Not only because of his athleticism and work rate, but because he allows Marco Pappa to play as a super sub. In these tight, defense-first matchups, Pappa is better off the bench. When discipline and playing to zero is key, Neagle can give 65+ minutes of quality two-way playing. Then when the game is winding down, Pappa’s creativity is a real spark off the bench, as evidenced in the final game of the regular season. I think Pappa plays pissed when he has to come off the bench. An angry Pappa is a very good thing for Seattle.