Los Angeles Soccer: Osvaldo Alonso
Chivas USA's quest for a trophy ended the same place its last real quest met its end, where every quest, at least for this trophy, seems to come to a close.
The Goats ran into the Seattle Sounders in Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and if their usual trouble spots -- an inability to create chances, costly mistakes in the worst places -- hadn't put them at a sizable disadvantage, then surely the reigning champs' attacking prowess would have done the trick.
The Sounders advanced to a fourth straight U.S. Open Cup title game -- and perhaps an unprecedented fourth straight triumph -- with a 4-1 romp in Tukwila, Wash., where they are 17-0 in the 99-year-old tournament.
Eddie Johnson gave Seattle a 31st-minute lead, Osvaldo Alonso converted a penalty kick at the start of the second half, and Cesar Romero's strike to halve the deficit with about 20 minutes to go was answered by UC Irvine product Brad Evans and Riverside's Sammy Ochoa near the end.
Chivas, which hasn't won a trophy in its 7 1/2-year history, failed in its biggest match since falling in the semifinals two years ago to the Sounders on the same Starfire Sports Complex turf.
“Early in the game was exactly as we expected it to be: a battle for territory, not giving anything up, getting into good spots,” head coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles. “I really thought it was going exactly as expected. Then we made a mistake to give up a bad goal, made another mistake for a bad goal to start the second half, then we're chasing the game.”
Chivas, despite ample possession, couldn't penetrate, and the service from the wings wasn't good enough. Starfire's narrow dimensions caused problems, and the Goats didn't get off a shot until the 58th minute -- and didn't get off a good one until Romero, who provided a big spark off the bench, made it 2-1 in the 74th.
That has been the recurring theme all season: Chivas has only 17 goals over 21 games in all competitions, and it's not because chances aren't being taken.
“I'd say I'm running short on patience in terms of scoring goals,” said Fraser, whose team has been shut out in three of its last four Major League Soccer matches and scored more than once only four times all year, twice against lower-level Open Cup opposition. “We'll just continue to work at it, continue to try to get the ball in dangerous spots.”
Seattle will face Sporting Kansas City in the final Aug. 8 at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Sporting won, 2-0, at Philadelphia, with Jacob Peterson tallying from Graham Zusi's free kick in the 65th minute and -- with Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath pushed forward in search of an equalizer -- Zusi scoring from midfield into an empty net deep into stoppage.
Cal FC caught the fancy of fans across the country -- across the globe -- with its unfathomable run through the U.S. Open Cup, and the Thousand Oaks-based amateur club did its best to give the mighty Seattle Sounders a battle Tuesday night.
It managed to do so for a little more than a half, but a penalty kick opened the gates, and the Major League Soccer powerhouse poured in five goals over roughly 20 minutes to cruise to a 5-0 fourth-round triumph in Tukwila, Wash.
Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero scored two goals apiece and the Sounders, winners of the last three trophies in the 99-year-old tournament, outshot Cal FC, 28-4, to romp into a quarterfinal showdown June 26 against the San Jose Earthquakes in San Francisco.
“I think we bit off more than we could chew, and, obviously, Seattle is a fantastic team,” Cal FC manager Eric Wynalda said afterward on Fox Soccer Channel's coverage of the match. “We were talking about it at halftime: Would we be able to stay with them? We got a little unfortunate with the penalty kick -- that certainly didn't help -- but [the Sounders are a] classy team, and I expect Seattle to be a contender to win this whole thing again.”
It was scoreless until the 50th minute, when a Montero blast struck Beto Navarro's arm, and Alonso barely beat Cal goalkeeper Derby Castillo to the left post.
The Sounders already were in charge by that point, but Cal FC -- a veteran group of undervalued players, most of them pros, that Wynalda put together in February -- gave an admirable performance, holding off repeated Seattle attacks and moving the ball around nicely without penetrating Seattle's defense. Castillo, midfielder Pablo Cruz and defender Jesus Gonzalez were solid all night.
“We weren't happy with some of the things we did [in the first half], but [Cal FC] played well,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid told FSC, which employs Wynalda as an on-air analyst and served as jersey sponsor for his team Tuesday night. “We weren't worried about a lot in front of our goal, but they did a good job of keeping possession, spreading the ball around. They're quick, they're technical, they're a good team.”
Cal FC managed just one shot on goal -- a 17th-minute Danny Barrera drive off of a corner kick sent straight at Seattle goalkeeper Bryan Meredith -- and never looked particularly dangerous.
CARSON -- Juan Agudelo is back, Osvaldo Alonso is out. If that's not enough to push Chivas USA into the favorite's role for Saturday night's Major League Soccer clash with the Seattle Sounders at Home Depot Center, consider current form.
The Goats (4-6-2, 14 points) are quickly solidifying into a real contender, with the draw at San Jose two weeks ago followed by last weekend's victory over the Galaxy and a tie Wednesday at Eastern Conference leader New York -- plus the burgeoning partnership up front between Agudelo and Jose Erik Correa -- and Juan Pablo Angel, too -- promising big things down the road.
They're in better shape for once than Seattle (7-3-2, 23 points), which started so well -- six shutouts and just three goals allowed in its first nine games -- but has struggled in its last three, sandwiching home losses to Real Salt Lake and on Wednesday to Columbus around a draw at Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver.
There's a goalkeeping crisis, troubles at the back -- the Sounders have allowed four goals in their last two matches -- and now Alonso, perhaps the best holding midfielder in the league, is gone, suspended two games Friday by MLS's disciplinary committee for a two-footed tackle in the Columbus loss that wasn't caught by the referee.
How big is that?
Alonso is the foundation for nearly everything the Sounders do.
Danny Califf, a few hours before word was out about the Cuban star, said trying to “move Alonso around” was critical.
“[We can't] just let him sit in the middle, because he does such a great job of breaking up plays and really covering so much ground,” said Califf, Chivas' backline leader after just two games since arriving from Philadelphia. “I think also when they have the ball [we need to try] to really have someone on him. A lot of their game goes through him, and he likes to lift his head up and look for cheeky runs from [top scorer Fredy] Montero.”
Agudelo is back early from the U.S. national team camp after not making Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-man roster for the “five-game tournament,” as U.S. Soccer is calling three friendlies (the first Saturday against Scotland) and the first two 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He and fellow Colombian Correa represent the future for Chivas, which has been desperate for something in the final third and is starting to find it.
Osvaldo Alonso converted a penalty kick and Lamar Neagle finished from Fredy Montero's pass five minutes later as the Sounders posted a 2-0 victory in the second leg, not quite enough after RSL romped, 3-0, in its home leg of the two-games, total-goals series Saturday night.
The result knocks out MLS's second-best team this season and ends retiring goalkeeping legend Kasey Keller's career while potentially setting up a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup final in Sunday's Western Conference final. The Galaxy take a 1-0 advantage into the second leg of their first-round series and will be home Sunday with a draw or better Thursday night against New York.
A one-goal Galaxy loss would force overtime and, to follow, penalty kicks, and New York will head to Sandy, Utah -- a rematch of the 2008 Western Conference final -- with a two-goal victory Thursday at HDC.
Real Salt Lake beat the Galaxy on penalties in the 2009 MLS Cup title game. New York beat RSL in 2008 en route to a MLS Cup loss to Columbus at HDC.
Defending champion Colorado also was eliminated, dropping a 2-0 decision at Eastern Conference regular-season champion Sporting Kansas City, which prevailed, 4-0, on aggregate.
Alvaro Saborio scored twice and Real Salt Lake came out winners in their Major League Soccer playoff opener Saturday, routing visiting Seattle, 3-0, in the first leg of the most widely anticipated first-round series.
Saborio finished a Chris Wingert feed in the 41st minute, on a play in which he appeared offside, then scored a glorious second goal in the 53rd, backheeling into the net Javier Morales' ball to the near post despite blanket coverage by Sounders defender Jeff Parke.
Ned Grabavoy added the third in the 88th.
Real Salt Lake finished third in MLS's overall standings, and Seattle was second. The winner of the the home-and-home, total-goals series will meet the Galaxy or New York in the Nov. 6 Western Conference final.
Both of Real Salt Lake's central defenders -- Jamison Olave (quad strain) and Nat Borchers (knee strain) -- departed with injuries, and their statuses for Wednesday's second leg in Seattle are uncertain.
The Sounders should be facing more of a handicap than just a three-goal deficit. Osvaldo Alonso should have been red-carded for shoving Saborio in the face away from the ball in the 54th minute, but referee Mark Geiger pulled out the yellow card. The league could assess a suspension for the second leg.
HOBOKEN, N.J. -- The Galaxy and Seattle Sounders were by a great margin Major League Soccer's premier teams this season, and they're on course for a Western Conference final to remember next weekend -- if they can get past difficult first-round playoff series, and there's no guarantee either will.
Their dominance shows up on our MLS Best XI and Second XI selections. Seven players on our first team are Galaxians or Sounders.
- BEST XI
Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA): The Goats' MVP was spectacular, and he needed to be. His big saves and solid work with a backline that endured major injuries, plenty of turnover and youngsters learning roles was catalyst for their failed fight for a postseason berth.
Omar Gonzalez (Galaxy): The big center back took a huge step forward in his third pro season, and that after snatching Rookie of the Year and MLS Best XI honors in his first two years. He was virtually flawless in the back and contributed to the attack, too, and not just going forward on set pieces.
George John (FC Dallas): Another tall center back, John emerged as a force for the Hoops last year, then climbed another level in his third season, providing a foundation for the league's No. 4 team and gaining appreciation in Europe, where he has no shortage of suitors -- and could pursue a spot with Greece's national team if he so chooses.
Todd Dunivant (Galaxy): The best left back in MLS? Nobody's going to argue that. The veteran always has been known for his consistency, but his quality in 2011 -- both going forward and defending -- has accompanied an iron-man performance that was pivotal in L.A.'s success.
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle): The Cuban veteran slipped into MLS almost as an afterthought, but there is no better defensive midfielder in the league. He shuts down foes, provides a foundation for the Sounders' league-best attack and is widely considered Seattle's true MVP.
David Beckham (Galaxy): Our choice for MLS MVP finally got a full season in the league and was a difference-maker for the league's best side. His service is impeccable, but as impressive is his leadership, his willingness to do the dirty work and his defensive acumen.
Mauro Rosales (Seattle): The league's unquestionable Newcomer of the Year orchestrated MLS's best attack, which hardly missed a beat after winger Steve Zakuani's devastating injury.
Brad Davis (Houston): The best crosser of the ball in MLS not named Beckham won the assists title, getting his 16th in the season finale against L.A. Like several on this list, a should-be U.S. call-up.
Landon Donovan (Galaxy): The Galaxy's leader saw his numbers fall off this year, and especially later in the year, but he's a master at providing the intangibles necessary to win, and his work off the field was pivotal to L.A.'s second straight Supporters' Shield.
Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia): A slow start statistically shrouded fine work building the foundation for the second-year Union's playoff run, and his finish -- 11 goals in 11 games -- nearly got Philly a conference crown.
Fredy Montero (Seattle): The Sounders' primary finisher also started slow, struggling while his arm was in a cast, then took charge the latter part of the season, scoring 11 times in 11 games, all competitions.
It's then most wide-open race in league history, but the length of your list could depend on where you stand on Philadelphia's Sebastien Le Toux (struggled half the season, but has been tearing it up the past six weeks or so) or Seattle's Fredy Montero (scoring consistently, but overshadowed by teammates) or Chicago's Dominic Oduro (a dozen goals, but how many has he missed?) or even the Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez (a beast on the league's best defender, but he's, er, a defender).
Some brief thoughts on the true contenders, listed alphabetically:
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle): MLS's best defensive midfielder makes Seattle go, but Montero and Mauro Rosales figure to siphon votes away -- Rosales with very good reason.
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake): RSL's season turned rocky after Javier Morales' injury, and the Utahns' captain and midfield leader took the club on his shoulders.
David Beckham (Galaxy): MLS's biggest name has been fantastic in the final year of his five-year contract, providing service opposing teams can only envy. His 15 assists lead the league.
Brad Davis (Houston): The league's best left-winger has been this season's most effective creative player.
Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United): Double-digit goals (14) and assists (12) and could prod D.C. to the playoffs following a three-year absence, but he was unloaded earlier this year by Toronto FC and New York.
Landon Donovan (Galaxy): Everyone agrees Donovan is MLS's premier talent, and if this hasn't been his best season, it's been very good, and his influence on L.A.'s success -- especially his work off the field -- has been significant.
Omar Gonzalez (Galaxy): L.A. is the best team in MLS because of its defense. The third-year center back is enjoying a monster campaign.
Thierry Henry (New York): Is there a silkier player in MLS? No, and the French superstar has 14 goals despite nagging ailments all year. If New York's campaign hadn't been such a disappointment, he'd have a real chance.
Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia): Not so great until the past two months, but he's been one of MLS's two best players -- with De Rosario -- down the stretch. If Philly can pull out an Eastern title, he'll get due consideration.
Mauro Rosales (Seattle): The shoo-in for MLS Newcomer of the Year has impressively engineered the Sounders' attack.
Brek Shea (FC Dallas): Lots of European interest in the tall winger, who might have run away with this award if not for the Hoops' nosedive near the finish.
Our vote? Give us a couple of weeks to think about it.
This week's rankings:
Week 30: Idle
Remark: Only one game -- the Champions League group finale at Motagua -- matters before the playoffs begin
Team MVP: Three candidates, and we voted in this order: Beckham, Donovan, Gonzalez
Next: Sunday vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center, 6 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes); Thursday, Oct. 20, in CONCACAF Champions League Group A game at Motagua (Honduras), 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)
2. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (16-7-9, 57 points), Last week: 2
Week 30: No Montero? No Rosales? Sounders fall out of Shield race with 2-0 home loss to Philadelphia
Remark: 57,000-plus expected for Saturday's home finale, Kasey Keller's final regular-season game
Team MVP: Newcomer Rosales, although Alonso will get votes, too
Next: Saturday vs. San Jose, 7:30 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel); Tuesday in CONCACAF Champions League Group D game vs. Monterrey (Mexico), 7 p.m. (Fox Soccer Channel)
3. PHILADELPHIA UNION (11-7-14, 47 points), Last week: 5
Week 30: Freddy Adu, Brian Carroll tally as Union wins, 2-0, at Seattle
Remark: Philly's first West Coast win is a big one, sending it atop the Eastern Conference
Team MVP: Carlos Valdes' play in the back is worthy, but it's Le Toux's form that has rekindled the Union's Eastern title hopes
Next: Saturday vs. Toronto FC, 1 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Thursday, Oct. 20, at New York, 5 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)
It's within reach. There are 11 games remaining on Chivas' schedule, and the club sits 10th overall in Major League Soccer, good enough to make the postseason (if the season ended now) but not nearly enough to relax. Houston is just a point behind, D.C. United is two back, Portland three and San Jose four.
One eye, Fraser acknowledges, is on the standings.
“Remember early in the season? I said I don't watch [the standings] yet?” the Chivas head coach said Friday. “This time of year, absolutely [I do]. Absolutely. Because it's getting down to crunch time.
“For the early part of the year, our focus certainly was improvement and getting better on a daily basis, and that's still the focus, but now side by side with that and of equal importance are your results and your points that you're getting, so this time of year, you do pay attention. You pay attention a little more.”
Chivas needs one more win to match last year's total, and their 29 points already is one beyond what they amassed in 2010. It's enough for sixth place in the West, and catching the top five -- the Galaxy, FC Dallas, Seattle, Colorado and Real Salt Lake -- might be too tall a task. The top three in each division advance to the conference quartets, with the next four teams, regardless of conference, playing one-game qualifiers to join the brackets.
“I would love for us to be in the mix at the end, if you're top three, fantastic ...,” Fraser said. “For us, we're battling to get in at the moment, and every game is treated with that sort of importance and that sort of relevance. We're still focused very much on improving, but part of our improving is our ability to finish games and get results.”
Defender Heath Pearce doesn't need a table to know where the Goats stand.
“It would be a lie to say I don't look at all,” he said, “but I certainly don't spent much time paying attention to it, because we're at a point points-wise and with games left in the season, that it's all in our hands. Qualifying for the playoffs is going to be [determined by] what we do, not what others do.
“If we do what we're capable of and fulfill the potential that this team has, then the playoffs is a reality. And if we don't it will be because [we] falter.”
HEALTHIER SOUNDERS: Seattle (11-5-8) expects to welcome back central defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (sprained MCL) and forward O'Brian White (blood-clot surgery), which is only going to help one of MLS's deepest, most talented teams grow deeper and more talented.
Galaxy midfielder Juninho is a Major League Soccer All-Star. So is Montclair's Nick Rimando, the goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake. Don't bother looking for either Wednesday.
They were among a half-dozen players selected in a vote among their colleagues for the final slots on the official All-Star list, but none of them are on the game-day roster for the clash with Manchester United at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the MLS Players Union mandates 32 all-stars, proportioned by position to resemble a realistic roster, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe will take only 21 players into Wednesday night's game, which will be televised on ESPN2 and TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46). Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. PT.
Backe was allowed a 22-man roster, but Landon Donovan pulled out Sunday with a calf strain, and the coach said Monday he would not replace the Galaxy captain on the roster.
Four others previously chosen for the game-day roster -- Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, New York defender Rafa Marquez, Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller and FC Dallas winger Brek Shea -- pulled out previously with injuries or CONCACAF Champions League conflicts.
The others added to the list Monday were Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, D.C. United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, Vancouver forward Eric Hassli and New York winger Joel Lindpere.
Juninho, a 22-year-old Brazilian in his second season on loan from Sao Paulo, has been pivotal in central midfield for the Galaxy, which have the league's best record (11-2-9) heading into the All-Star break.
Rimando (Montclair HS/UCLA), 32, is in the top tier of MLS goalkeepers -- arguably at the top of that tier -- and his exclusion from the game-day roster was one of Backe's more shocking decisions. Rimando hasn't spoken publicly about the snub, but RSL head coach Jason Kreis last week told The Salt Lake Tribune that his star netminder was “deeply hurt.”
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.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
The Galaxy's tight, disruptive defense helped them get the advantage in the first-round playoff series.
What we saw in the first leg of the Galaxy-Seattle playoff series is what we can expect Sunday evening in Game 2 at Home Depot Center: The Sounders will attack, looking to exploit space behind L.A.'s defense primarily through wingers Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi, and the Galaxy will try to make doing so difficult.
Things are fairly simple heading into the decisive encounter in the Major League Soccer first-round home-and-home. The Sounders must make up a one-goal deficit, and they must do so on the road. The Galaxy wants to win at home, but a draw will suffice.
And so their approaches to the game ought to be similar to those taken in the opener, in which the Sounders looked to attack and the Galaxy's emphasis was on playing tight, disruptive defense.
“It all depends what [the Galaxy's] approach is at home,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Saturday. “Our approach has to be somewhat similar, in that we need to win and need to score goals. Hopefully, a little more good fortune, but don't expect that much difference because they were successful with what they did in Seattle. But on the same token, being at home I think they will be a little bit more willing to go forward than they did in Seattle.”
The Galaxy, captain Landon Donovan said, “want to play the way we're good at playing and the way we know how to win. In general, that's a little more cautious than it is aggressive, so we're not going to change anything from that standpoint. But we're not going to go into the game thinking, 'Let's do everything we can to tie the game and get out of here.' We're playing at home. It's like any home game. We want to win.”
Joe Nicholson/US Presswire
Seattle's Steve Zakuani says it will all come down to which team executes in the second leg against the Galaxy.
Looking for the pivotal player in Sunday's second, decisive leg in the first-round playoff series between the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders? Look no further than second-year Sounders winger Steve Zakuani, a Congo-born, London-raised, Akron-schooled speedster whose game is about so much more than pace.
Zakuani, the No. 1 overall pick in MLS's 2009 SuperDraft, emerged as an attacking force this season, using his speed, power and tricky ball control to dominate opposing right backs and team with, especially, forward Fredy Montero and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, to set Seattle's dynamic attack.
The Galaxy played a nearly flawless defensive performance to take the Sounders out of their game plan in the first leg, a 1-0 L.A. victory last weekend in Seattle, yet still needed a superb showing from goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to deny the home team a victory. They'll need to do so again Sunday evening at Home Depot Center to advance to next week's Western Conference final against FC Dallas.
We caught up with Zakuani on Saturday afternoon.
How will the Sounders differ their approach in the second game?
We're definitely going to try to play higher up the field. We've got to stretch L.A. We have to. I think they had it too easy [in Seattle]. When you're playing long balls into [6-foot-5 Galaxy center back] Omar Gonzalez, he's going to win that all day, so you've got to stretch them. You've got to make them run. Put the ball on the floor. We have fast players. We have tricky, skillful players. Their strength is the ball in the air.
Dema Kovalenko of the Galaxy dribbles against Nathan Sturgis (12) of the Sounders during Sunday's playoff game.
SEATTLE -- The Galaxy heads home for the second leg of their first-round Major League Soccer playoff series against the Seattle Sounders with a 1-0 advantage after a near-perfect performance in an encounter so ugly it was, well, beautiful.
You'll find little agreement on that among anyone who watched -- especially the disappointed 35,521 packed into Qwest Field -- and few who played. Saturday's was a chippy, disjointed affair that favored the Galaxy on two fronts: Edson Buddle's miracle goal in the 38th minute and Donovan Ricketts' stalwart performance in the nets.
The beauty was in the precision with which the Galaxy engineered its disrupt-and-disgust game plan and how effectively it took the Sounders out of their game.
How did L.A. pull it off? Here are three reasons:
1. DEMA'S BOOTS
Ukrainian-born Dema Kovalenko is the fiercest (opponents might say dirtiest) tackler in MLS, and he was going to kick shins and keep kicking shins until referee Ricardo Salazar finally produced a yellow card.
It took Salazar, who had several conversations about tactics with the Galaxy defensive midfielder, until the 65th minute, and by then Kovalenko had forced the Sounders -- looking to play fluid, passing soccer on the slick, quick artificial turf -- completely off their game.
“I think they thought they'd have an easy game,” Kovalenko said. “You know, [Osvaldo] Alonso likes to get the ball and spray and this and that, but not today, my friend. Not today.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid declined to talk about the brutality -- “The refs are the refs,” he offered -- but he had a word with Salazar.
“This guy went to the referee and said I should be out of the game. I heard him saying it, you know what I mean?” Kovalenko said. “He can say what he wants, it doesn't matter.”
Frustratring foes is Kovalenko's game. It's, he said, “what I had to do. It's physical. … If the referee thinks its a yellow card, it's a yellow card. But you don't have to tell him what's going on. So I told [Schmid] something, too, you know what I mean?”
Once cautioned, Kovalenko's effectiveness was done. A second yellow is a red card, and he'd have been out of next Sunday's second leg at the Home Depot Center. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena pulled him five minutes later.
There are, as Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid put it, “games within the game” that will determine the outcome in the first leg of the Galaxy's first-round Major League Soccer playoff series Sunday at Seattle.
Here are three of those “games”:
1. STEVE ZAKUANI VS. SEAN FRANKLIN, ET AL
Zakuani, whom Seattle made the top overall pick out of NCAA powerhouse Akron in the 2009 draft, has every tool and has learned in two professional campaigns how to use them. Now there's talk in England about bringing him home.
The Congolese-born, London-raised winger has immense speed, skill, power and self-confidence -- lots and lots of self-confidence -- and he delights in running at defenders, beating them one-on-one, then feeding teammates or scoring himself. He has a superb relationship with Fredy Montero, the Sounders' attacking engine, and benefits from striker Blaise Nkufo's ability to hold the ball.
Zakuani plays on the left, meaning that Sean Franklin, the Galaxy's fastest backliner, will have foremost responsibility to, uh, slow him down.
“It's impossible to slow him down, because he's so quick,” said David Beckham. “But I've always said the game's not about pace all the time. It's about making the right passes and being clever about things. We know that if we pass the ball around well and we play our own football, then I don't see it being a problem.”
Landon Donovan takes the leadership role for L.A., and Seattle looks for Fredy Montero to call the shots.
WHAT: Sunday's opener in a home-and-home, first-round Major League Soccer playoff series between the L.A. Galaxy (18-7-5) -- the Western Conference champion, top-seeded team and winner of the Supporters' Shield for best regular-season record in the league -- and Seattle Sounders FC (14-10-6), the West's No. 4-seeded team.WHERE: Qwest Field in Seattle, with about 40,000 fans expected.
WATCH: ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes at 5 p.m.
HISTORY: The series is even, at 2-2-1 in all meetings, since the Sounders joined MLS last season -- there also were two U.S. Open Cup meetings with Sounders-related teams, both Galaxy victories, when Seattle was in the second-tier league. The Galaxy twice won this season in league matches (4-0 on May 8 in Seattle, 3-1 on July 4 in Carson). Seattle captured a U.S. Open Cup showdown (2-0 on July 7 in Tukwila, Wash.), with both teams fielding largely reserve lineups.
CONNECTIONS: It's pretty much one-way traffic here. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid (Torrance/Bishop Montgomery HS and UCLA) was the Galaxy's coach from 1999 to 2004, guiding them to the 2002 MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield, 2001 U.S. Open Cup and 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup titles. … Reserve midfielder Peter Vagenas (Pasadena/St. Francis HS and UCLA) played in 183 MLS games (plus 19 playoff encounters) from 2000 to 2008, captaining the 2005 MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup winners. … Reserve defender Tyrone Marshall also was part of both Galaxy MLS Cup winners; the Jamaican national-teamer was in L.A. from 2002 to 2007. … Reserve forward Nate Jaqua spent 10 games with the Galaxy in 2007, scoring twice. … Starting midfielder Nathan Sturgis started his pro career in Carson, playing 24 times in league games for the Galaxy in 2006-07.