With seemingly little on the line Sunday night in the regular season finale between Los Angeles and Seattle, the pre-match teamsheets at the Home Depot Center told a surprising story.
Both sides fielded strong lineups: names like Donovan, Beckham and Keane appeared for LA; Montero, Rosales and Alonso for Seattle. This despite LA coming into the night locked into the fourth seed of the playoffs and Seattle guaranteed either second or third.
Soon it became clear why, as the two MLS Cup contenders felt each other out weeks ahead of what could be a potential Western Conference finals showdown. The Galaxy’s Mike Magee’s 83rd minute winner proved the difference in a 1-0 result in a game high on quality chances and short on quality finishing.
“Even though it wasn’t going to change our position, we wanted to go in just playing a game with confidence,” said Galaxy defender Sean Franklin. “Seattle beat us twice this year, we didn’t score one goal on them. This third game was kind of like a revenge game and I’m glad we got the win."
“I think players would rather stay in rhythm. I think you pull players out [you lose that],” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said of the decision to start strong lineups. “…The Galaxy play Thursday, they have a three-day turnaround. I think [Galaxy coach] Bruce [Arena] thought it was too long if he didn’t play his group today, because it would have been almost two weeks since they’d played a game.
While Magee’s goal will take the headlines, the stat lines reveal two sides that are evenly matched when at or near full strength: LA: 18 shots, 50.4 percent possession; Seattle: 18 shots, 49.6 percent possession.
If the teams are to face off again, the Galaxy must first overcome a single-elimination match against Vancouver on Wednesday, then take down league-leading San Jose. Seattle faces off against 2010 MLS Cup champ Real Salt Lake in the semifinals.
Seattle has enjoyed success against the Galaxy this season, outscoring LA 6-0 in two home contests including a 4-0 rout on Aug. 5. But the short playoff history between the clubs has been lopsided thus far, with the Galaxy sweeping both legs in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals.
When asked how much playoff experience mattered, Schmid said it was significant.
“I think playoff experience is important, because you learn how to manage things and not get nervous in tight situations,” Schmid said. “Does the team get nervous? Does the team panic? Do they start pounding the ball forward?”
Schmid said the Sounders showed maturity Sunday, continuing to battle back and create chances after going 1-0 down. Seattle had a stoppage time goal disallowed after it was determined striker Fredy Montero handled the ball in the penalty area.
After navigating contests with fellow contender RSL, San Jose, and now Seattle insuccessive weeks, Arena said he liked where the team was ahead of Wednesday’s showdown with Vancouver.
“The last three weeks we got a little bit of a test against the three teams that finished ahead of us," said Arena. "We size up okay. So it’s a good audition for what lies ahead."