SEATTLE (AP) — Robbie Keane stood next to the conference title trophy, politely smiled for the picture and let the confetti rain down.
Just as quick, Keane, David Beckham and the rest of the Los Angeles Galaxy were rushing off the stage at midfield and ready to get out of Seattle, thankful there is still one more game in their surprising season.
“Certainly they were the better team tonight there’s no question,” Keane said. “At the end of the day we’re in the final, that’s all that matter.”
Eddie Johnson and Zach Scott scored to give Seattle a 2-0 lead, but Keane converted a penalty kick in the 68th minute on Sunday night that clinched the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 4-2 aggregate victory over the Sounders in the Western Conference finals and a spot in the MLS Cup final for the second straight year.
Frantic and desperate, Seattle rallied from a 3-0 deficit after getting overwhelmed in the first leg of the Western Conference finals last week.
And they were on the verge of completing the huge comeback after Johnson’s goal just 12 minutes in, and Scott’s header in the 58th minute pulled Seattle within one in the aggregate count.
Just when Los Angeles needed something, anything to stem the wave of momentum the Sounders were on trying to find a tying goal, Keane expertly controlled the ball along the end line and was able to send a cross that caught Seattle defender Adam Johansson’s hand.
There was no hesitation from referee Mark Geiger, who was the subject of complaints all night from both sides, and he called a handball in the penalty box. Keane then converted his fifth goal of the playoffs and all but ended Seattle’s chances at a rally.
A statement from Geiger after the match said he made the call because Johansson had extended his arms outside his body and making himself bigger by taking space.
“At that point it took the air out of Seattle and its fans,” Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena said. “It was an important goal.”
After fighting back from an awful start to finish fourth in the Western Conference, the Galaxy’s reward is a rematch with Houston in the MLS Cup final on Dec. 1, a game Los Angeles will host.
It’ll pit the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds from each conference in the title match and be the Galaxy’s third appearance in the final in the past four seasons.
“There were many times (this year) we would have been ecstatic just to get to the playoffs,” said Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, who did not play with a hamstring strain. “But you’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit from where we were the beginning of June to where we are now it’s pretty impressive.”
For the second straight year, Seattle’s season ended because it was unable to make up a three-goal deficit in the second leg at home. The Sounders’ frustration boiled over after the final whistle when Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso both confronted Geiger at midfield while the Galaxy celebrated.
“Kind of put a stab in our hearts at that point because we worked so hard and felt like we were back in the game,” Johnson said of Keane’s goal. “It was painful today. Credit to them, good team, got the job done in first game. When put yourself in difficult situation against defending champions, it’s tough to get back.”
Even though Los Angeles knew Seattle would attack from the start, the Galaxy were overwhelmed the first 15 minutes. In the 11th minute, Johnson appeared to get Seattle the lead off a quick pass by Christian Tiffert, but was disallowed as Johnson was offside. Television replays showed Johnson was onside when the pass was played and the goal should have counted, but it became a moot point moments later.
Scott won a free ball in midfield and sent it ahead to Johnson, who got position on Omar Gonzalez and scored with a left-footed blast giving Seattle a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute.
Seattle continued to press for chances, but was unable to draw any closer by halftime. Los Angeles nearly got a decisive break just before halftime when Mike Magee’s shot was blocked in the penalty box and appeared to hit the arm of Seattle’s Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, but Geiger immediate waived off any handball call.
Scott then made the possibility of Seattle’s rally realistic when he scored on a diving header that Tiffert smartly played toward the near post. It was just the eighth goal for Seattle in MLS play off set pieces all season and gave Seattle more than 30 minutes to try and equalize.
“We felt we were in pretty good shape … that we could get the third,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
But the handball ended all those hopes and re-established a two-goal cushion and silenced a crowd of 44,575, the largest for a non-final in MLS playoff history and the sixth largest for any MLS playoff game. Keane had two goals and an assist in the first leg.
“There is no way you can try and get a penalty in that situation,” Keane said. “I was just trying to get the ball across and the referee gave the penalty. Lucky for us.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.