The entire dynamic of the season-ending home-and-home series between the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy changed in the 88th minute of Sunday's 2-2 draw at StubHub Center.
Galaxy center-back Omar Gonzalez, who was already on a yellow card, picked up a second caution for his tackle on Seattle's Gonzalo Pineda.
As Gonzalez walked into the tunnel, the hopes of LA returning from Seattle Saturday with the Supporters' Shield, and the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, disappeared.
Gonzalez, who spoke to LAGalaxy.com about the decision Wednesday, was not happy with the decision made by referee Ismail Elfath.
I had a few days to think about it and look at the play again and from my standpoint, it wasn’t a yellow. I think that I went to the ground because I thought that I was going to the ball and I did get the ball first. He continued running and then tripped over me.
Since returning from the World Cup, Gonzalez has been in terrific form in the middle of a back four that has seen its share of injuries in 2014.
Saturday afternoon's match at CenturyLink Field was supposed to be a great test for how the healthy back four of A.J. DeLaGarza, Dan Gargan, Robbie Rogers and Gonzalez would hold up in a testy road environment.
Instead, the Galaxy will most likely use the unreliable Leonardo at center-back alongside DeLaGarza, which means Seattle should have a field day attacking on its home turf.
Due to the defensive-minded lineup that Seattle manager Sigi Schmid trotted out Sunday, the Sounders only played with their best attacking lineup for 24 minutes.
And what a 24-minute span that was, as the Sounders charged back to score twice in a three-minute span to make Saturday's match worth everything.
Schmid aligned his starting 11 Sunday in a defensive fashion so that DeAndre Yedlin could receive help marking Landon Donovan from Brad Evans.
The plan worked to near perfection, as the duo of Evans and Yedlin only committed one major mishap, which led to the Galaxy's first goal.
Now that Seattle will be playing at home, expect Schmid to put his best attacking lineup on the pitch so the team can get off to a fast start.
As we saw in the second half at StubHub Center, the Galaxy defense can't handle Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa when all four are out on the pitch.
Pappa and Neagle bring plenty of width to the Seattle attack, which can leave Gargan and Rogers isolated on the wings in defense.
When Martins holds possession in the middle of the field, like he did in the buildup to Seattle's equalizer, he draws more attention to himself, which allows a wide player like Neagle to prance into the box unmarked.
With so much space in between the wingers and the penalty area when the ball is out on the wings, Martins and Dempsey are able to make runs to connect with passes from the wing players. The News-Tribune's Don Ruiz relayed Dempsey's comments:
Containing the runs from two of the top scorers in the league will be a difficult task for 90 minutes without Gonzalez in the middle to command the Galaxy back line.
DeLaGarza is a respected defender in the league, but Leonardo has suffered through his share of struggles all season long.
Add in the noise made by the 54,000-plus fans at CenturyLink Field, and you have a recipe for disaster at the back for Bruce Arena's side.
Another motivating factor for the Seattle front line to pounce early at home will be the embarrassing defeat the Sounders suffered at the hands of the Galaxy back on July 28.
In that game, the Galaxy attack tore apart Yedlin on the left wing and left with a 3-0 victory that will surely be in the minds of every Sounders player Saturday.
In Yedlin's defense, that was his second league match after the World Cup and the whirlwind ride he experienced after Brazil due to his breakout performance for the United States.
The young defender, who is headed for Tottenham once the season ends, showed plenty of poise against Donovan in the first round of this home-and-home series, which leads us to believe he will show no fear again, even if Evans is left out of the lineup in favor of Pappa.
Lest we forget, Seattle has motivation to win everything in its path this season after the awful late-season collapse in 2013 that saw it fall to rival Portland in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Sounders have already won the U.S. Open Cup in dramatic fashion in September with a 3-1 win over Philadelphia in extra time, and they could well be on their way to trophy No. 2 with Gonzalez out and the Supporters' Shield on the line.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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