Updated Monday, November 19, 2012 at 11:16 AM
For the first hour of this second leg of the Western Conference final, the Seattle Sounders played as if they were the best team in the league.
Down 3-0 coming into the game Sunday night, they came at the Los Angeles Galaxy with great resolve and energy. Even though their situation was dire, the Sounders played aggressively, not desperately. They were purposeful, not panicky.
If only they had played like this in the first leg in Los Angeles.
An early Fredy Montero run led to a corner kick. A minute later a Montero pass to Eddie Johnson created a dangerous opportunity that Johnson chipped over the goal.
The Sounders fed off the sustained energy of the crowd, the 44,575, who created an atmosphere as rich and real as any in the world.
For that hour, before they ran out of gas, the Sounders won the 50-50 balls. They tilted the field, playing almost the entire first half in the L.A. end. They threw balls toward Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders, who looked rattled in this rematch.
The Sounders outscored L.A. 2-1 Sunday. They created enough good chances to escape the deep hole they dug. But they lost the series on aggregate, 4-2.
They lost it in the first game, when they played with only one forward and not enough resolve. They outscored the Galaxy in the rematch, but they didn't beat L.A.
Still for so much of this game they looked like a team capable of miracles.
Johnson was playing as if he were cloned. He was everywhere the action was. Big Game Eddie.
In the 11th minute, Johnson scored a goal that was denied because of an offside call. The replay clearly showed that Johnson was onside, but that's the problem with losing the first leg so lopsidedly, there is no room for error, from the players, the referee's assistant or the referee.
Johnson scored in the 12th minute, taking Zach Scott's pass and beating Omar Gonzalez, the MLS Defender of the Year last year, and one-touching the ball past Saunders.
And after Scott out-hustled Edson Buddle and headed Christian Tiffert's corner kick past Saunders in the 57th minute, cutting the Galaxy aggregate lead to 3-2, you could almost believe the miracle.
But on this manic night, the Sounders had to be perfect and lucky and better than they've been in any game this season.
They were good, but they weren't perfect. They played well, but they were unlucky.
Defender Adam Johansson finally made the series' fatal error, the mistake that leached all of the life from the match and the season. In a battle near the goal line, he was victimized by Robbie Keane's cunning, getting called for a handball.
"A little bit of a harsh call," Sounders' coach Sigi Schmid said.
The officiating was generally rubbish, something we've come to expect in the MLS, but this was the right call. And in the 68th minute, Keane surely struck the playoff-clinching PK.
Game over. Series over. Season over.
There is no denying the success of this 4-year-old franchise. Look at other expansion teams like Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, Portland and even Vancouver. None is having anything close to the success of the Sounders, in the stands or on the field.The Sounders have made the playoffs every year, a remarkable achievement. They've drawn European-sized crowds and the energy inside the stadium is world class.
Now those fans should demand more from the front office.
For the second consecutive season, Mauro Rosales, one of the designated players, broke down before the playoffs. He should have been in the lineup, Sunday, but Rosales doesn't like to play unless he's 100 percent healthy. He's not a gamer, like Keane or David Beckham.
Tiffert is a very good player, but he isn't the kind of DP who wins championships. And Montero now has gone 10 playoff games, 829 minutes, without scoring a goal. By comparison, Keane has scored five in the playoffs this season alone.
The Sounders need to spend more. They need to find their very own Robbie Keane, or Landon Donovan.
Kaka? The Real Madrid midfielder has said he's interested.
It's time to reward the fans who crowd into CenturyLink from March to November. Time for the Sounders to spend like the Galaxy. Find stars, not role players as their DPs. Find gamers, not complainers.
This year, they closed to a game of being the host, and maybe even hoisting the MLS Cup. It was a remarkably entertaining season.
Now all we ask of them is more.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson, left, fights for the ball against the Galaxy's Tommy Meyer in some highflying acrobatics.