Juninho’s goal puts Galaxy into MLS Cup final
SEATTLE (AP) — Fireworks erupting and yellow confetti filling the air, Landon Donovan and his Los Angeles teammates accepted the Western Conference championship trophy.
“I’m sort of just in this moment right now,” Donovan said. “I just want to prepare myself for one last week and do everything I can to help this team win. I really want to go out a champion.”
Yes, Donovan has one more game to play before he calls it a career, the MLS Cup final next weekend on his home field.
Juninho’s tiebreaking road goal early in the second half sent the Galaxy to the MLS Cup final after their conference final against the Seattle Sounders ended 2-2 on aggregate on Sunday night.
Seattle won the second-leg 2-1, but road goals were used as a tiebreaker in the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time this season and Los Angeles used it to the full advantage following a 1-0 win in the first-leg last weekend. After surrendering goals to Seattle’s Brad Evans and Clint Dempsey’s in the first 32 minutes, Juninho’s goal was the difference and will keep Donovan’s career alive for one more game as the Galaxy seek their fifth MLS title.
It was Juninho’s first goal since Sept. 21, 2013 — also against Seattle — and put Los Angeles in the final against New England next Sunday.
“It was a matter of grinding it out,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “This was not going to be easy by no means and it wasn’t.”
Donovan acknowledged for the first time seeing the end of his career as reality when the Galaxy trailed 2-0 at halftime and 2-1 in the series.
“In the few minutes I did have at halftime to ponder a little bit I wanted to make sure this wasn’t it,” Donovan said.
Seattle was attempting to reach the MLS Cup final for the first time in franchise history and the Sounders appeared headed that way after an exciting first 45 minutes where their top players were at their best. Evans’ goal in the 25th minute pulled Seattle even on aggregate and Dempsey’s first goal of the playoffs put the Sounders in front.
But needing a perfect defensive effort in the second half to hold the lead, the Sounders failed to clear a corner kick from danger in the 54th minute. Juninho’s shot from outside the box beat Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei and deflected in off the post. Donovan, who sent in the corner kick, and Los Angeles defender Omar Gonzalez were given assists on the goal.
Seeking a goal in the closing minutes Seattle pushed nearly everyone forward into the attack. Andy Rose nearly scored from a difficult angle near the end line in the 84th minute. Dempsey’s half-volley in the final minute before stoppage time sailed over the crossbar for a goal kick. The Sounders never got a clear scoring chance on Los Angeles goalkeeper Jaime Penedo as the Galaxy defense did its part in congesting Seattle’s opportunities.
It was a crushing result for Seattle, which was attempting to become the first team in league history to win the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup in the same season.
It looked promising for Seattle early. After a disjointed first 25 minutes, Evans’ goal immediately opened up chances for Seattle.
Dempsey was the instigator in Seattle taking the lead, keeping alive the play from the ground, then collecting a deflected cross and beating Penedo. Dempsey raced to the Seattle bench and jumped into the arms of his teammates, putting the Sounders ahead on after just 32 minutes, but the final celebration belonged to Los Angeles.
“Our league decides that the MLS Cup winner is the top team. But that’s a mountain we haven’t climbed yet,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “I thought this could be the year we could climb that mountain.”