The first half was an ugly affair, specifically for the Sounders. Whether it was Lamar Neagle replacing Nelson Valdez on the right wing or the football lines on the pitch, Seattle looked flat, unable to get anything going in attack. Early on Obafemi Martins located Clint Dempsey behind the Galaxy back four, but his shot was tame and Donovan Ricketts was able to make the stop.
Late in the half, LA took the lead on the road. In the 36th minute, Sounders center back Zach Scott played a errant back pass behind Gonzalo Pineda in a dangerous spot on the field, and Keane managed to intercept the ball and easily beat Stefan Frei with a low simple finish.
That would have been a highly logical conclusion for Seattle Sounders FC in their 3-3 draw at Dignity Health Sports Park Friday night. Despite playing well, they trotted into the visitors’ locker room down 2-0 to the LA Galaxy, a lead padded by Victor Vazquez’s bolt from out of the blue over Stefan Frei’s head – whether intentional or just a mishit cross, a goal with the feeling of destiny about it, a sign from the heavens that it’s not meant to be.
The Rave Green limped into this one on a 2W-6L-0D skid, seemingly star-crossed. Their talisman Cristian Roldan had to be rested on his Southern California homecoming due to a painful sports hernia issue. Putting great faith on the teenage shoulders of central midfielder Danny Leyva, head coach Brian Schmetzer shifted his injury-stalked side into a 5-3-2 formation in search of inspiration as their window for a late sprint into the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs shrinks steadily.
“I mean, [LA’s] first goal actually came from defending a goal kick. Not just the end result, but we didn’t do what we were supposed to do defending the goal kick, they get in our half,” noted Schmetzer postgame. “Second goal came off a throw-in deep in their half that we didn’t defend very well, no organization. So yeah, giving up a couple of goals, and we come in at halftime, regroup, they’re all still kind of chattering in the locker room at halftime because they knew they played well.”
It is to their immense credit that these Sounders, after all they’ve endured in this odyssey of a season, still don’t know when they’re beaten: 2-0 suddenly turned into 2-1 as Kelyn Rowe finished off a gorgeous team move. A few minutes later Albert Rusnak pressed forward, smelling complacency, cracking two shots off the woodwork in a chaotic sequence that ended with Raul Ruidiaz thumping Nico Lodeiro’s cross past Jonathan Bond to equalize the score.
“They’re a mature team. They’ve played in a lot of big games, important games. They’ve got a lot of guys who have been around a long time. They’ve got guys who can kill you when they get opportunities,” said Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney of the Sounders postgame. “So I think that’s why I wasn’t very comfortable at 2-0, still.
“They’re a mature team who’s fighting for their life right now with the playoff scenario, so it’s not surprising that they didn’t roll over and let us take the game.”
Vanney’s fears materialized in the 73rd minute as Jordan Morris tapped in a rebound from point-blank range, pushing Seattle ahead 3-2 and quieting a shocked stadium taking in this Western Conference six-pointer.
“The message was to score a goal soon,” said Lodeiro of Seattle’s halftime talk. “That’ll bring us back into the game and we could turn things around. So it was important to keep the ball, keep possession, create the opportunities.”
Yet this latest barnburner in an MLS season chock-full of them had further twists in store.
Video Review spotted a Nick DePuy header caroming off Xavier Arreaga’s hand in the Sounders’ penalty box in the 88th minute, referee Victor Rivas eventually pointing to the spot despite the harsh luck of the Seattle defender having little chance of preventing the mid-air contact. Substitute Dejan Joveljic fired home the equalizer in injury time, saving the Galaxy’s blushes and snatching two points away from the visitors.
“Look, by the letter of the law, they got it right,” acknowledged Schmetzer. “But the problem with the law is that if you look behind Xavi when the ball hit his arm – and the ball will hit his arm, his arm wasn’t moving towards the ball – we had two defenders there, so even if the ball would have gone past Xavi or there would have been something, our guys would have cleaned it up. There was no Galaxy player behind him. So there was no real negating of the advantage, so to speak.
“But yes, by letter of the law, that’s a handball.”
Both these playoff-chasing teams have reason to rue the final outcome. With Seattle just minutes away from securing a huge road victory, however, it stings them that much more.
“We’re very happy that we were able to, in one half, create so many chances, score the goals and be able to come back. That’s good resiliency from this team,” said Rowe.
“But it’s frustrating because we need to grind these games out. We’ve been in this league before: You win these games, late especially, the morale goes higher and you have a bit of a run when you get those three points. So yes, we dropped two points.”
Especially given all they’ve already been through in a campaign that started early due to Concacaf Champions League involvement, featured the euphoric high of their historic triumph in that tournament (in May), and has been marked by one setback after another since.
“You give them a ton of credit for the comeback,” said Schmetzer. “That shows you that our team still has fight left. And then you go to the end where it’s another gut punch … I don’t have any words that can match the emotion that those guys feel. They put everything into the game and deserve three points.”
Worn, weary, perilously shorthanded in some areas, looking to kids and reserves to pick up the slack, Seattle will battle on until the math or the calendar tells them to stop.
“I have complete confidence in that group of players,” said Schmetzer. “You’re going to get the contributions of a Danny Leyva, who’s fresh. I thought Kelyn accounted well for himself at left back. I thought Raul came back strong. He hasn’t had time off because he’s been on the treatment table, but he’s fresh, he’s ready to go. I think there’s enough freshness within the group.
“We’ve tweaked our training, which I think has helped. Now for the last three weeks, we’ve reduced the volume by 30 to 40%, but increased the intensity, and I think that has really helped us. So I’m positive that even after what feels like another gut punch, I think we’re a resilient group and I think we can come through it.”