Here are three reasons the Galaxy dominated Seattle in the second leg of their first-round playoff series Sunday night, using a 2-1 victory for a 3-1 aggregate advantage that sends them to next Sunday's Western Conference final at the Home Depot Center.
1. DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS: L.A.'s smart, gritty -- Seattle coach Sigi Schmid called it “grisly,” although he might have meant “grizzled” -- approach to both legs of the series made the difference. They neutralized the Sounders' speedy flank game by shutting off wingers Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi (great work, again, by Sean Franklin and Eddie Lewis) and gave central midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Nathan Sturgis no room to work.
The backline was superb, but it's a team effort all over the field, and the efforts by Landon Donovan and David Beckham -- in assisting Franklin and Lewis with their assignments, but also in pinching in and teaming with Juninho and Dema Kovalenko to clog passing lanes and destroy options -- was inspirational.
The Galaxy's first hour is as good a primer on team defense you'll ever find.
2. QUICK STRIKES: Seattle had to score to stay alive, and they weren't going to find it easy the way the Galaxy's defense was playing and the kind of form goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts is in. So when L.A. added to its 1-0 advantage from last week's first leg, with Edson Buddle's header from Beckham's corner kick, the Sounders' task became much harder.
Omar Gonzalez netted a second, from a Beckham free kick, just eight minutes later, and just like that, the Galaxy had a 3-0 aggregate lead just 27 minutes in. It was over, no matter what the Sounders believed.
Beckham is an odd kind of superstar. Nobody is ever going to place him in the pantheon with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry -- we can go on -- and that's not meant as a dismissal. He's a role player, a wide midfielder who will give supreme effort and do whatever is needed to help his team win, and he has one great weapon: that amazing right foot.
He's a set-piece specialist; it paid off twice for the Galaxy on Sunday, and that was that.
3. CRAFTY AND CLEVER: The Galaxy are a club of veterans -- they're “grizzled,” as Schmid might say -- that know how to play the game within the game better than any other team in MLS. They don't care if its pretty as long as it's effective, and they possess the “intangibles” that separate champions from really good sides.
Here's how Schmid explained it:
“There's an edge to their team. There's a physicality to their team. … Everyone knows their role, everyone does their role. [There's a] discipline and craftiness that L.A. has right now … whether it's taking 20 seconds to take a goal kick or a throw in. Little things to kill the game.
“I mean, Ricketts knew after he got crashed into by [Alvaro] Fernandez [in the 59th minute, requiring medical aid for his right knee] he wasn't taking any goal kicks, but every time he walked over, put the ball down, pretended he was going to, and then -- oh, by the way, [a defender has] got to come back here and kick it, and the referees aren't smart enough to pick that up. So when you have a veteran team that's crafty, then they get away with that stuff.
“And, you know, it's 10 seconds here, 20 seconds there, but more so than anything, it just kills the momentum of the game. And so we're trying to up the momentum of the game, we're trying to keep the game going, we're trying to keep the flow going, and unless you yellow-card them, then they're going to continue to kill the rhythm.
“So they're a team that understands that rhythm because they've got a lot of veteran players. And those are intangibles that make a difference in a big game.”