Mark Nelson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Advantage Los Angeles.
The L.A. Galaxy walked off Qwest Field on Sunday night with a 1-0 win and a one-goal edge over Seattle Sounders FC in their Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinal series thanks to a stunning first-half goal by forward Edson Buddle.
Seattle struggled to accurately lift passes over a tightened midfield and Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made eight saves as L.A. grabbed a lead in the two-game, aggregate-goal series.
The second leg of the series is Sunday at the Home Depot Center in Carson City, Calif.
Buddle, a U.S. international forward, quieted the home crowd of 35,521 with an ambitious volley from 30 yards out that beat Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller to the far post.
Buddle, whose 17 regular season goals ranked him second in the league, collected a headed pass from defender Omar Gonzalez and shielded Seattle defender Patrick Ianni off the ball before turning and lofting a right-footed shot that caught Keller a bit off guard and dropped just inside the far post in the 38th minute.
“It’s just one of those things that guys try 100 times in their career and never make it happen,” Keller said. “Great goals change games and that’s part of it, but I thought our response in the second half was good. We created chances, we had more than enough opportunities to win the game.”
Seattle, which is scoreless in three MLS playoff matches, peppered Ricketts with eight shots on goal, but couldn’t break through the athletic 6-foot-4 goalkeeper.
Ricketts turned away a point-blank header from Fredy Montero in the 24th minute and denied Nathan Sturgis on a direct free kick in the 42nd minute.
“Donovan (Ricketts) came up with a couple big saves in the first half,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said. “In the second half, I think we squandered some chances. If we finish better, if Donovan doesn’t have the game he had we maybe walk off this field winners.”
Seattle appeared to jump out to an astounding lead in the opening minute, but midfielder Steve Zakuani’s rebound of an Osvaldo Alonso shot was called back because the forward was offside, quickly turning the wild cheers into a chorus of boos.
“All you can do is try and create chances,” Schmid said. “Obviously, I’m disappointed in our inability to finish. A couple of them were great saves, but there were some that we should have finished.”
Seattle, which finished the season’s second half with a league-best 10-2-3 record, outshot L.A. 15-10, but Galaxy outside defenders Eddie Lewis and Sean Franklin kept dangerous wings Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi in check for the majority of the game.
Lewis, a 36-year-old former U.S. international, bottled up the speedy Nyassi, not allowing the Gambian an opportunity to get behind the Galaxy defense.
“I just think as a team we didn’t really play how we’ve been playing,” Zakuani said. “They scored an unbelievable goal and you can’t do nothing about that.”
L.A., which earned the MLS Supporters’ Shield with the league’s best regular season record, is in the driver’s seat as the series shifts to southern California next Sunday, but a one-goal lead isn’t very comforting for a team that twice defeated Seattle by bloated margins in the regular season.
The Galaxy beat Seattle 4-0 on May 8, prompting Sounders FC ownership to offer season-ticket holders a one-game credit for next season; Seattle dropped a 3-1 decision in L.A. on July 4.
“There’s everything to play for in the next game,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said.
Seattle dodged a bullet in the 85th minute as a shot from Galaxy midfielder Juninho skidded inches wide of the far post, preserving the one-goal margin of victory.
Two minutes later Sounders substitute Nate Jaqua found space in the box, but fired a low shot directly at Ricketts.
Ousted from the playoffs after a second-leg, overtime goal in Houston a year ago, Sounders FC has a final shot to keep its season afloat.
“It’s a long way from being over,” Keller said.