Inside Look: How LA Galaxy saved their season, advanced to MLS Cup 2014

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The LA Galaxy are headed to MLS Cup 2014 in their own backyard next Sunday (3 pm ET) following a 2-1 second-leg loss that resulted in a 2-2 series victory (1-0 on away-goals tiebreaker) over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night.

It wasn’t beautiful and dominating in the way their 5-0 victory in the second leg of the conference semifinals was, and a solid argument can be made that the Galaxy weren’t even the best team over 180 minutes. But in the playoffs, none of that matters.

When I previewed this game Saturday night, I closed out my thoughts with the following profound foresight:

Tempo, tempo, tempo. It’s the key to most games, but doubly so in this one.

My thinking was that with the Galaxy holding a one-goal lead ahead of the second leg, they’d be better served in a slower-paced game where they can build long bouts of possession and limit the Sounders’ opportunities to run at them on the counter-attack.

For 20 minutes, it worked. The Sounders couldn’t string more than two passes together and were completely out of sync. The Sounders didn’t register their first shot of the game until the 24th minute. Then the first goal came (26th minute), and the buzz and tempo inside CenturyLink Field changed.

It didn’t, however, hold long enough for the Sounders to score a third goal and give themselves what they turned out to need.

[ RECAP: Galaxy do just enough in loss to advance to host MLS Cup 2014

Big moments change — and win — games. That sounds overly simple and pretty obvious, but this game was a perfect example of that tired cliche. Sunday’s game can be easily broken up into three distinct acts: pre-Sounders goal, post-Sounders goal and ensuing onslaught, and post-Galaxy goal and game-killing.

Before the Sounders scored and broke the game open, they were helpless. In the time between the Sounders scoring their two quick goals and the Galaxy scoring one of their own, they were the helpless ones. Upon the Galaxy retaking the series lead, it was all Galaxy.

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Osvaldo Alonso, who returned from a hamstring injury to start the second leg, was far from being the usual terror in midfield that we’ve come to expect, and it honestly cost the Sounders. The Cuban midfielder lost out on challenges he’d never not win at 100 percent, and to players to whom he’d otherwise never lose out.

The Sounders tried to combat this by dropping Gonzalo Pineda into the destroyer role alongside a more static Alonso who tried to replicate Pineda’s usually effective distributor role. Neither player was ever comfortable with their newfound responsibilities and struggled throughout until being substituted after 75 minutes.

The lack of a destroyer and a capable jumping-off point for counter-attacks ultimately undid the Sounders when the Galaxy got comfortable in the midfield, moving the ball around and killing the game off with extended periods of possession.

No team has won five MLS Cups. The Galaxy take their first crack at it against the New England Revolution next week.