The Seattle Sounders dethroned the defending MLS champion and longtime nemesis Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-2, on Wednesday at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders moved ahead twice only to see the Galaxy draw level again in a wild first half.
But in the 73rd minute, midfielder Erik Friberg took advantage of a poor Galaxy clearance in front of its own goal — and this time the Sounders held on to the final whistle.
“We haven’t done anything easy all year, so there wasn’t any reason for you guys to suspect that (this) was going to be easy,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “… We knew this was a team we needed to get off our backs.”
The Sounders’ reward is a trip to the Western Conference semifinal round, where they will meet either top-seeded FC Dallas or second-seed Vancouver in a two-game, aggregate-score series. Seattle will host the opener Sunday. Seattle’s opponent will be determined Thursday night when Sporting Kansas City visits Portland. A Timbers win pairs the Sounders with Dallas; an SKC win serves up the Whitecaps.
All that because the Sounders finally found a way past the Galaxy, which had ended three of their previous six trips into the postseason.
“Obviously happy to advance and be in the conference semifinal,” captain Brad Evans said. “That’s probably the most important at this time. Obviously when you beat that team, it’s a good feeling because they have such quality players. … Historically, if not the best, one of the best teams in MLS.”
The match started crazily. Clint Dempsey sent Seattle ahead in the fifth minute. Sebastian Lletget equalized in the sixth. Nelson Valdez returned the lead to Seattle in the 12th minute. Gyasi Zardes pulled L.A. back level in the 22th.
That ended the first-half goal-scoring, but not the action. One Seattle goal was waved off for offside. An L.A. shot on goal was tapped onto the crossbar by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
There was an element of error in all the first-half goals. For Seattle, Dempsey hammered in a misplay by defender Omar Gonzalez and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Valdez took an Andreas Ivanschitz free kick on a short hop, and Ricketts was slow to react. For Los Angeles, Lletget seemed to run onto a ball that wasn’t intentionally played to him. The Zardes goal deflected into a top corner off of Valdez.
“I think Christmas came early in Seattle,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We absolutely gift-wrapped that game for them tonight. Our play in front of our goal defensively was atrocious. ... Give them credit — they jumped on the mistakes — but we were shockingly poor.”
Seattle began taking control in the second half, finally leading to the game winner from Friberg. The play began with a pop fly of an attempted clearance by A.J. DeLaGarza. Friberg beat everyone to it, then instantly redirected the ball into the back of the net.
“It’s a big goal,” Friberg said. “It’s always fun to score a goal, but the important thing is we won the game.”
Frei providing a final key save against Zardes in the 82nd minute.
“I’m sure it was exciting for the people watching the game, but as a goalkeeper it’s pretty nerve-racking,” Frei said. “That’s what happens when you have two teams that have the quality up top on both sides.”
The Sounders played without defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who had hobbled off the pitch Sunday with an undisclosed injury, and midfielder Marco Pappa, who was out with an undisclosed injury. However, DP/midfielder Nelson Valdez returned to the lineup after missing three games with a calf injury.
During the match, Evans injured a hamstring, and his status for the weekend is uncertain. Ivanschitz said he rolled an ankle, but indicated confidence that he can be ready for Sunday.
“This isn’t the end of our journey,” Schmid said. “This is the beginning of our journey. Now we’re in the conference semifinals, and we want to continue to keep the journey going.”