CARSON, Calif. — Over the course of a soccer season, it’s possible the phrase that players and coaches repeat more than any other is “Goals change games.”
One Robbie Keane goal in first-half stoppage time Sunday certainly boosted the Los Angeles Galaxy and stung Sounders FC. But in this two-game aggregate-score Western Conference final series, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid could live with that.
The problem that now has his club struggling for its playoff life is that the Sounders also allowed a second goal, and then a third, on their way to a 3-0 defeat before a sellout crowd of 27,000 at Home Depot Center.
“As I said to the team at halftime, ‘One-nothing is OK. It’s not the worst thing in the world. One-nothing is OK as long as we keep it that way,” Schmid said afterward. “For some reason again we feel, ‘No, we have to make it 1-1.’”
In trying to catch up, the Sounders got out of defensive shape, and they paid for that against Major League Soccer’s defending champions.
Mike Magee added a goal in the 64th minute, which was assisted by Keane; and Keane got another in the 67th minute.
That three-goal margin is the same that the Sounders took home in the first round of the playoffs last season against Real Salt Lake. Seattle made up two of the goals on its home pitch, but was eliminated when the third never arrived.
“It was very disappointing that we repeated that,” Schmid said. “We’ve beaten (Los Angeles) at home by four. And so it’s a matter of us doing that. But it’s going to be a difficult task.”
That earlier game Schmid mentioned was a 4-0 rout of the Galaxy on Aug. 5 in Seattle. And while the Sounders took comfort in having done it once, everyone seemed to understand the feat won’t be easily repeated.
“We’re a good team at home,” forward Eddie Johnson said. “Going down 3-0 against the defending champions: It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. We played them this year at our place and we managed to score four goals. But this is the playoffs. It’s different.”
Johnson, Seattle’s leading goal-scorer, played only the final 25 minutes, as Schmid juggled a lineup ravaged by injury, by some players unable to go 90 minutes so soon after the previous series finale Thursday in Utah, and by the absence of defender Marc Burch due to disciplinary suspension.
So the Sounders opened their Western Conference final series with Fredy Montero as the only true forward. Midfielder Alex Caskey got his first start since Aug. 18. The back line consisted of Adam Johansson, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Zack Scott — and there were no defenders on the bench.
For all that, Seattle was seconds away from going into halftime with a scoreless draw. However, in the first minute of stoppage time, Landon Donovan launched a cross from the right side of the penalty area, and Keane headed it inside the far post before goalkeeper Michael Gspurning could retreat to it from the near post.
It truly was a goal that changed a game — and far more than Schmid thought it should have.
“We just lost our shape, lost our concentration, lost our focus, and they bang away two goals,” he said. “And we’re actually a little fortunate it wasn’t three or four.”
If there is any chance of catching up when the series concluded Sunday at CenturyLink Field, Schmid said the team will need to be more mentally disciplined than it was in the opener.
“We have to understand that we have to score three goals in 90 minutes,” he said. “We don’t have to score three goals in five minutes, or score three goals in 15. … It’s important that we come out with a good mentality, a good work rate, a good effort on our part, but also a good plan and the patience and the desire at the key moments.”