L.A. defeats Sounders in season opener
SEATTLE (AP) -- Even short-handed, the Los Angeles Galaxy continued their hex on the Seattle Sounders.
Even on opening night of the Major League Soccer season that's served as Seattle's stage the last two years.
Los Angeles midfielder Juninho beat Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller on a 25-yard shot inside the near post in the 58th minute, and the Galaxy opened the 16th MLS season with a 1-0 win over the Sounders on a rainy Tuesday night.
While most of the attention was placed on the stunning pregame news that Seattle had cut ties with designated player Blaise Nkufo, the Galaxy were also short to begin the 2011 season.
New striker Juan Pablo Angel, starting centerback Omar Gonzalez and starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts all stayed behind in Los Angeles with various ailments. Angel was ill, while Gonzalez (shoulder) and Ricketts (hamstring) were injured.
It didn't matter. The Galaxy won their fifth straight match with Seattle in MLS play.
"My guess is there's not another team in our league that would go without two starting centerbacks and starting goalie and one of their starting forwards and win here," Los Angeles midfielder Landon Donovan said. "We're very proud of that, but obviously it's early."
Take away a stripped down Galaxy roster that lost to Seattle in last year's U.S. Open Cup and the Sounders haven't registered points against Los Angeles since a 2-0 win on the road in August 2009. The Galaxy dispatched Seattle from last year's MLS Cup playoffs, then added a sour note to an already bitter day for the Sounders with the departure of one of their starting strikers.
"I don't think people realize how difficult it is to beat a team in this league, a playoff team in this league five times in a row, three of which are on their home field, three of which are on what everyone would say is the best homefield advantage in our league," Donovan said.
Having watched Seattle control play for the better part of 45 minutes, the Galaxy struck with a quick counterattack off a careless turnover by Seattle midfielder Erik Friberg. His pass was intercepted by Todd Dunivant who carried into open space and laid off a pass for Juninho.
The Brazilian then swerved a long shot that Keller got his hands on but couldn't push wide of the post.
Seattle had plenty of chances to draw even, the best coming in the 72nd minute when O'Brian White redirected Steve Zakuani's cross, only to see it bounce wide of the far post.
White also missed a pair of chances in the first half, Friberg shot wide of an open net and Fredy Montero clubed a right-footed shot directly at Los Angeles keeper Josh Saunders and deflected away. Saunders finished with six saves.
Seattle has been outscored 11-2 during Los Angeles' five-game league win streak.
"For whatever reason we're extremely frustrated and extremely angry," Keller said. "I don't know if we did enough to comfortably win the game. Goals change games, but we definitely could have gotten something out of today."
The Galaxy beat Seattle 4-0 last May in the regular season, a loss that prompted Seattle's management to offer refunds to season ticket holders who renewed for the 2011 season.
Tuesday night wasn't that embarrassing for the home club, but was far from the way Seattle wanted to start with a brutal opening stretch that includes a match Saturday at New York before hosting Houston next Friday.
And the hits for Seattle started before the match even began when it was announced that Nkufo and the team had decided to cut ties. Nkufo signed with Seattle in early 2010 then joined the team after playing for Switzerland in the World Cup in South Africa.
Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer reiterated a number of times after the game that the separation was mutual.
Tuesday was also the start of what could be David Beckham's final MLS go-round. Beckham's contract expires at the end of the season. and was loudly booed every time he touched the ball.
Beckham was given a yellow card for a hard tackle in second-half stoppage time.