The Western Conference finalists are separated by just one goal heading into the second leg in Seattle next Sunday. Here are three takeaways from the first leg at StubHub Center, won by the Galaxy, 1-0, on a goal by Marcelo Sarvas.
1. Penedo and Frei close the door
Though only Sarvas scored via a deflection and goalies Stefan Frei and Jaime Penedo registered a modest total of seven saves combined, the game did not lack for quality chances.
Frei dove low to either side to keep out shots bound for the bottom corners hit by Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers. The Galaxy took 20 shots, 13 from inside the penalty area, but 12 missed the target -- including mishit efforts by Robbie Keane and Stefan Ishizaki -- and five others were blocked. Ishizaki also hit the bottom of the crossbar on a superb free kick that landed a yard from the goal line and was cleared.
Penedo thwarted the Sounders in the first half with an excellent double save on Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey. Neither shot was particularly well struck, but Penedo went to his knees to block the shot by Martins and recovered quickly to paw away Dempsey’s follow-up.
Perhaps Penedo’s best work came in the 49th minute, when he stoned Dempsey one-v-one after a mazy dribble and slick back-heel by Martins set up a clear chance. Dempsey needed to drag the ball with his left foot and by the time he chipped it with his right, Penedo had closed to within a couple of yards of him and swatted down the attempt.
Though the Galaxy had to bring in centerback Tommy Meyer to replace the injured Leonardo and move A.J. DeLaGarza to right back, it preserved its perfect defensive record in the playoffs. In two games against RSL in the conference semis and the match Sunday, Penedo and the Galaxy have yet to concede a goal.
2. Chad Marshall hangs tough
The absence of midfield general Osvaldo Alonso, who suffered a hamstring strain against FC Dallas in the conference semis, heaped additional pressure on replacement Michael Azira and centerbacks Chad Marshall and Zach Scott. Azira manned the middle with Victor Pineda and at right midfield Brad Evans replaced Lamar Neagle, who missed the match for personal reasons. Evans had a major defensive game; the Galaxy’s left mid, a guy named Landon Donovan, finished with zero shots.
The Galaxy scored when a Sarvas shot from the edge of the penalty area hit Marshall on its way to goal and wrong-footed Frei, but otherwise Marshall and Azira were the main reasons Seattle departed StubHub Center down by just one goal. In the final minutes, Marshall made up several yards and snuffed an Alan Gordon point-blank chance with a perfectly timed slide. He ended up with six interceptions, eight clearances and two blocks.
Yet the Sounders were caught defending too deep several times and left huge spaces around the edge of the penalty area, where Alonso often patrols. Nobody closed down Sarvas on his shot, and for some reason right back DeAndre Yedlin was the Sounder nearest to him. Rogers forced a good save from Frei by skating past Yedlin into the middle and firing a low right-footer from about 20 yards out with no one close enough to challenge.
3. All carded players granted clean slates
Under the suspension rules used in the playoffs, a player who doesn’t receive a second playoff caution in the first leg of the conference finals has a clean slate heading into the second leg. Under this procedure, only if a player is sent off in the second leg can he be suspended for the MLS Cup final if his team advances to the title game.
Unlike the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips, cautioned for a very pointless challenge on Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth that rules him out for the second leg, none of the four players cautioned in the Galaxy-Sounders game were carrying a yellow card.
Yedlin picked up a caution in the third minute and by treading very carefully despite being challenged by Rogers and several other Galaxy players avoided what would have been a very costly second yellow. Scott was cautioned late in the first half and despite a couple of borderline challenges in the second half wasn’t disciplined further by referee Kevin Stott.
TRIVIA. The Galaxy became the third team to open the MLS playoffs with shutouts in its first three games. Chicago (2003) and New England (2007) also did it.
Nov. 23 in Carson, Calif.
LA Galaxy 1 Seattle 0. Goal: Sarvas (DeLaGarza) 52.
LA Galaxy -- Penedo; Rogers, O.Gonzalez, Meyer, DeLaGarza (Gargan 61); Ishizaki (Gordon 80), Sarvas (Husidic 69), Juninho, Donovan; Keane, Zardes.
Seattle -- Frei, Yedlin, L.Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Pineda, Azira (Rose 80), Evans (Anibaba 89), Pappa (Barrett 62), Dempsey, Martins.
Yellow Cards: LA Galaxy -- DeLaGarza 8, Ishizaki 35; Seattle -- Yedlin 3, Scott 37.
Referee: Kevin Stott.