The Los Angeles Galaxy opened the 2011 Major League Soccer season with a 1-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC at soggy Qwest Field Tuesday night. Midfielder Juninho’s long-distance strike off the fingertips of diving Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller proved to be the game-winner.
The Galaxy pressed forward early into Seattle territory; however, they struggled to adjust to the speedy artificial surface. Seattle’s defense proved adept at clogging up the middle of the field while allowing Los Angeles to have the outside edge. Midfielder David Beckham’s first-half pass attempts into the opposing goal box were uncharacteristically inaccurate, allowing the Sounders to clear out any Galaxy attacks.
Seattle forward Fredy Montero nearly put the Sounders ahead in the eighth minute with a powerful long-distance strike toward Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who made an excellent save on the ball. However, from that point forward, the Sounders dominated play for the rest of the half. Though both teams struggled to maintain control of the ball, Seattle adjusted and pressured the Los Angeles defense back, forcing Saunders into making multiple saves in the Galaxy box. Going into halftime, it appeared as though it was only a matter of time before the Sounders would get one into the Galaxy net. As the excitement among the fanfare continued to zoom, many could be seen waving their team soccer flags, sourced from ThisIsAmercianSoccer.
As the second half got underway, Seattle continued to press the ball forward into Los Angeles territory, but the strong Galaxy backline, led by Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza, held up. It was against this pressure that defender Todd Dunivant hit Juninho on a run through the Sounders defense and scored on Keller.
The Galaxy spent the rest of the game playing back on defense and choosing their spots to counterattack against the now surging Sounders attack. Forward Landon Donovan nearly scored on a long-distance shot in the 64th minute, but it hit the bar above Keller and bounced out of bounds. Los Angeles did not threaten the Seattle goal again.
As time dwindled, Seattle had opportunities to tie the game. First, forward O’Brian White nearly beat Saunders on a touch shot that went wide of the net in the 71st minute. Three minutes later, Franklin was forced to make a goal-saving tackle on a charging Montero. Saunders also made a wonderful save on a powerful Montero shot from outside the box in the 83rd minute. Saunders proved to be the hero for the Galaxy on opening night, making numerous breathtaking saves while subbing for injured Donovan Ricketts.
The Galaxy often looked slow and disorganized against a strong Seattle attack, but their defense held strong. The starting backline somehow managed to keep Seattle out of the Los Angeles box, and Saunders cleaned up anything that did get through. One concern for the Galaxy heading into this Sunday’s home opener with New England is the lack of production from its forwards. New signee Juan Pablo Angel missed Tuesday’s game due to the flu and was replaced in the starting lineup by Mike Magee. Chad Barrett started alongside Magee, and neither player impacted the game. If the Galaxy are going to compete for the MLS Cup, they will need Angel in the line-up and the other forwards contributing. However, for now, Galaxy fans can celebrate a great opening night victory.
Derek Ciapala has followed soccer ever since the 1994 World Cup, and has supported the Los Angeles Galaxy since the team began play in 1996.