SEATTLE — Close to a miracle.
For the second straight year, Sounders FC had a huge playoff deficit to erase. And once again, against the odds, Seattle made an impassioned push to make things interesting.
In the end, however, the hole proved too deep.
The Sounders beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 in the second leg of the Western Conference finals Sunday at CenturyLink Field, but the visitors still won the series 4-2 on aggregate to advance to their second straight MLS Cup.
Coach Sigi Schmid said the damage was ultimately done in the first leg, a three-goal road loss at The Home Depot Center.
“We’ve got to eliminate those 3-0 losses because we’re showing that we can win playoffs,” Schmid said. “We did make progress this year and we went one step further, but obviously at this stage we’re all disappointed. We need to make sure the energy with which we played tonight is the energy we play with all the time.”
The defending champion Galaxy hosts the Houston Dynamo in the Dec. 1 final, a rematch of last year.
Trailing 3-1 on aggregate, Seattle pulled to within a goal in the 57th minute when defender Zach Scott dove to head in a corner kick from midfielder Christian Tiffert.
The comeback was nearly complete as excitement built within a home crowd of 44,575 — a franchise-record turnout for the playoffs and the largest in MLS postseason history for a nonfinal.
The Galaxy dashed the hopes for a magical comeback in the 68th minute, however. Forward Robbie Keane drew a penalty kick, knocking the ball off the hand of Seattle defender Adam Johansson, and converted the shot past goalkeeper Michael Gspurning to restore a two-goal advantage for L.A.
Schmid said the call by referee Mark Geiger was “harsh.”
“That’s the way it seems to have gone for us a little bit on the season,” the coach added.
Geiger explained that Johansson got an advantage by using his hand to make himself bigger on the play in order to block the cross. Schmid argued there was no Galaxy player in the area to receive a pass.
The goal was Keane’s fifth in the playoffs, an MLS best this postseason, and his 22nd in all competitions.
The Sounders threw everything they could forward in the final minutes, but couldn’t crack the Galaxy defense. Defender Jeff Parke missed just wide with a header in the 90th minute and substitute David Estrada couldn’t convert a chance in the first minute of stoppage time.
L.A. has advanced to the MLS Cup in three of the past four years, winning last season against Houston and losing to Real Salt Lake in 2009 on penalty kicks.
The Sounders started the game at a frenetic pace and looked primed for a comeback despite the slim chances. Forward Eddie Johnson had an excellent chance with a fourth-minute breakaway but pushed the shot high. He followed that up with an apparent goal in the 11th minute, but it was controversially waved off for being offside — replays indicated it was the incorrect call.
“To me, that’s a problem,” said general manager Adrian Hanauer, who is on the league’s competition committee.
Johnson left no doubt with a goal in the 12th minute, collecting a pass from Scott and holding off L.A.’s Omar Gonzalez to finish past goalkeeper Josh Saunders. The goal was Johnson’s 17th in all competitions this season, tied for the team lead with Fredy Montero, but the Sounders would only be able to get one more.
Seattle’s season ended without a trophy for the first time but also with the team’s first series win in the playoffs.
“Maybe we’re the kind of team that has to go one step each year,” Schmid said.
Notes: Seattle started its 34th different lineup in 38 league games this year (regular season and playoffs). Steve Zakuani made his first MLS start in nearly two months and Scott played in place of Mauro Rosales and Leo Gonzalez, on the bench due to hamstring strains. Galaxy star Landon Donovan (hamstring) also was not available.
Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso was issued a yellow card after the final whistle. It was his second of the game, resulting in a red card and a suspension for the 2013 MLS opener.