SEATTLE – There will be no confetti, no Bruce Arena drinking champagne, and no sixth MLS Cup for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The 2014 MLS Cup Champions will not be defending their title after they fell to the Seattle Sounders 3-2 on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field.
The holders got punched in the mouth to start the game, but they fought back, getting off the mat to equalize not once, but twice against one of the best home teams in the league.
Erik Friberg delivered the knockout blow in the 73rd minute, and the LA Galaxy simply had nothing left in the tank in the final minutes of the match as they were eliminated from the postseason at the hands of their rivals for the first time in history.
"I had a goal in Champions league, but in MLS it was a big goal," Friberg said. It was perfect. They cleared it and I was at the top of the box, so I just hit it. It felt pretty good."
Defensive deficiencies were the calling card of this team over the final six weeks of the season. Unfortunately, those mistakes carried over onto the pitch on Wednesday and were amplified in the single most important game of the season for LA.
The Galaxy gifted the Sounders three goals, capped off by Friberg's golazo and the quest for their fourth title in five years came to an abrupt end in the cold and rain of the Pacific Northwest.
"I think Christmas came early in Seattle," Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said after the game. "We absolutely gift wrapped that game for them tonight. Our play in front of our goal defensively was atrocious."
For those in attendance, and for fans watching across the globe, the first 45 minutes of the match looked more like a Fast and Furious movie than it did an MLS Cup Playoff game.
Each team took turns scoring goals over the first 25 minutes of the match, with the Sounders capitalizing on the Galaxy's defensive mistakes, only to allow LA back into the match minutes later.
"It was a crazy first 30 minutes," Friberg added. "There were chances for both teams all the time."
The Galaxy have been atrocious on set pieces since they allowed "San Penedo" to walk out the door earlier in the summer and brought back 2010 Goalkeeper of the Year, Donovan Ricketts who is now a shell of his former self.
Ricketts and the Galaxy back four allowed three goals on set pieces and crosses on Wednesday night, and it all started with Captain America himself, Clint Dempsey.
Dempsey, who has a sixth sense for big goals in big games, opened the scoring in the fifth-minute after a miscommunication between Ricketts and Omar Gonzalez gave Dempsey an early birthday present.
Andres Ivanschitz sent a cross into the box that both Ricketts and Gonzalez charged after. Gonzalez was in position to head the ball away, but he ducked at the last minute, allowing the ball to go off his back and right to Dempsey's feet who put it in the back of the net.
"I heard Donovan [Ricketts] call for the ball on the first goal," Gonzalez said after the game. "That's why I ducked."
It didn't matter, the damage was done, but minutes later the Galaxy would find the equalizer thanks to the dynamic footwork of Gyasi Zardes and Sebastian Lletget.
Zardes made a terrific move inside the box, slipping a through ball between two Sounders defenders, finding a cutting Lletget who placed the perfect shot past the outstretched arms of Stefan Frei and into the bottom right corner of the net. It was Lletget's first goal in his first ever MLS Cup playoff match.
The lead would be shortlived as another defensive mistake in the 12th minute would give Seattle back the lead. Nelson Valdez made it 2-1 Sounders when he scored off a free kick from Ivanschitz that both Ricketts and Steven Gerrard decided to observe rather than attempt to stop.
"I think we both hesitated," Gerrard would later say. "I was waiting for him to come and take it and he's probably been waiting for me to clear it."
Gerrard was responsible for marking Valdez on the play, but he gave up as the ball came to Valdez, expecting Ricketts to come out and punch the ball away. Instead, Ricketts stood like a deer in the headlights and watched as Valdez buried the shot inside the back post.
Zardes, who was the best player on the pitch in the first half, would respond once again as the LA native found the equalizer in the 22nd minute.
Juninho fed Zardes just outside the box and the kid with the skunk-like haircut sent a rocket into the top left corner of the net that nobody was going to stop.
The second half was much more calm, as each team struggled to convert chances as the rain fell harder and harder on the artificial surface at CenturyLink field.
With momentum turning to the side of Los Angeles as Giovani Dos Santos dropped back to the midfield, moving with ease through defenders as he created as many opportunities for his teammates as a fish has bones, the game suddenly stopped on a dime, on you guessed it, another set piece.
After a Seattle corner kick in the 73rd minute failed to be cleared, not once, but twice by two different Galaxy defenders, Friberg struck with deafening force past Ricketts who had fallen on the play and simply watched the shot find the back of the net.
The Galaxy pressed for the final 20 minutes, making two offensive substitutions for Baggio Husidic and super-sub, Alan Gordon, but it was not to be. Not on this night, not after the slipshod performance defensively, and not after the past six weeks of futility.
The LA Galaxy exit the playoffs in the first round for the first time in Bruce Arena's seven year tenure as coach, and for the first time, many of the veteran players on the team will not experience what it's like to play soccer in November.
"This is a first time for me. I've never been out this early," Gonzalez said through social media after the game. "It stings. I'm sure it will sting more in the coming days. We win and lose as a team."