Ahead of tonight's Western Conference Championship First Leg with Seattle Sounders FC, I spoke to SoundersFC.com's Matt Gaschk to discuss the current play of the Sounders head into tonight's all-important match up.
I had a similar conversation with Gaschk, which can be found on SoundersFC.com.
My conversation with Gaschk is below...
The Sounders advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in club history. How big of a boost has this been to the club and how can it carry them into the match against LA?
GASCHK: "The win on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium can’t be understated. In a lot of ways, this team has been carrying that burden for the last three years – that they can have success in the regular season and Open Cup, but can’t solve the playoffs. Now, with that behind them, they can relax and be themselves. At the same time, there are 14 players on this year’s squad that weren’t on the team last year when they lost to Real Salt Lake in the Conference semifinals. So a lot of players on this team haven’t felt that history of trouble in the playoffs and are coming in with a clean slate, which is good in a lot of ways."
Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero are well known entities up front for Seattle, what are some of the club’s other weapons and how do they integrate with the big two?
GASCHK: "Seattle’s greatest depth has been in the midfield and this year, they can add forward to that list too. David Estrada was incredible for this team in the opening weeks of the season while Eddie Johnson was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Throughout the year, Sammy Ochoa has also shown that he can score when called upon with his goals coming in the CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup. Meanwhile the midfield remains a strength, with Mario Martinez really showing his quality with the game-winner against Salt Lake on Thursday. With all of those options within the starting lineup, assuming Mauro Rosales is unavailable, it’s easy to forget about Steve Zakuani too, who has shown that he is nearing the form that had him penned as one of the best young players in MLS two years ago before his injury that ended his 2011 season after just five matches."
The Sounders allowed the lowest goal total in the West this season and held Real Salt Lake scoreless in the WC Semis. What has been the rationale for their success?
GASCHK: "The backline has been very good throughout the year, showing their depth as well with seven players seeing regular playing time. They have also shown a commitment to defending throughout the field and when they are at their best; all 11 players are playing active roles in winning the ball and eliminating easy opportunities. Add to that the stellar play of Osvaldo Alonso in the midfield and the record-setting first season in MLS by Michael Gspurning and it’s no wonder they have the top defensive numbers in the West."
DP Christian Tiffert came into the club at midseason; how role has he played since joining the team?
GASCHK: "Tiffert has shown versatility in that he can play all three midfield roles in front of Alonso. He’s not afraid to track back and get involved in the action, but his best attribute is his ability to set up goalscorers in opportune places. He was the top setup man in the Bundesliga for a reason and while the assists haven’t come yet, his calmness on the ball has been important in the patient attack for the Sounders."
What will Seattle’s mindset be heading into the first leg, knowing that the club will have a second leg at CenturyLink Field?
GASCHK: "That is a great question. Coming off of a very difficult series with Real Salt Lake, many teams would bunker in and hope for a scoreless draw in the first leg. But that’s not really the style that has gotten this team to the point where they are one of the top two teams in MLS over the last four years, along with the Galaxy. This team likes to play and I think that’s what we will see on Sunday."
Lastly, Seattle has enjoyed success against the Galaxy this season, but have struggled in the past. How does this Seattle team view the Galaxy and how do they feel they can beat them?
GASCHK: "The Sounders have a tremendous amount of respect for what the Galaxy have been able to do. There is a reason they have had the success that they have had in recent years and the series between the two teams has been very tightly contested in every year except 2010, when the Galaxy won all four meetings in the regular season and playoffs. Outside of that year, Seattle has gone 3-2-2 against LA and has won twice on their way to the US Open Cup title. This year, they are much more equipped to take a patient tact against the Galaxy and that’s how they’ve had success. There are key matchups all over the field, but if the forward tandem of Johnson and Montero can have success against Omar Gonzalez and Tommy Meyer – if A.J. DeLaGarza can’t play – then that could carry Seattle in this playoff series."
Seattle Sounders FC will be without Marc Burch for the Western Conference Championship and MLS Cup, if they get that far.
On Saturday evening, Burch was suspended three games by the MLS Disciplinary Committee and fined an undisclosed amount for directing a homophobic slur at Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson during the Western Conference Semifinal Second Leg at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday. If Seattle are eliminated by the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship, he will be suspended for the first game of the 2013 season. In addition to his fine and suspension, Burch will also attend diversity and sensitivity training.
“Major League Soccer has a zero tolerance policy in response to this type of behavior from its players or staff,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in a statement. “While I understand and believe that Mr. Burch is remorseful, Major League Soccer is committed to providing an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect.”
The 28-year-old left back was a staple in the Seattle lineup this year, starting in 19 of his 29 appearances this season while also tallying three assists. Burch started both legs of the Western Conference Semifinal against RSL, going 90 minutes in both instances.
With Burch out for the duration of the playoffs, defender Zach Scott appears to be the most likely option to slide into his position.
CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham spoke to reporters ahead of Sunday's Western Conference Championship First Leg between the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC at The Home Depot Center.
During his interview, Beckham touched on a number of topics including his opinion of the Sounders, Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso and a number of other topics.
Beckham's thoughts are below...
(On the team’s balance…)
BECKHAM: “We've got great balance on the team, we've had it for the last three or four years and Bruce has brought players in that can perform and have performed. It doesn't matter what age they are, they've stepped into the team. Jose [Villarreal] and other players that have stepped in, they don’t look out of place. That’s down to the coaching staff and Bruce [Arena] and the confidence of these young kids. Tommy [Meyer]’s stepped in and he’s done well in other games and coming up against the players that he did in San Jose, he proved that he’s matured a lot and his performance was exceptional. We've definitely got the right balance throughout our team; we just need to keep producing these kids because it’s good for the sport and obviously, the U.S. as well. It’s nice to see these players progress and go into the national team and that’s what you want to achieve ultimately."
(On whether LA is better now than they were at the end of the season…)
BECKHAM: “I think that if you've had asked me after the first game in San Jose, I’d have said no, but obviously we preformed really well. That’s the standard that we need to keep, that’s the standard for the last half of the season and we got ourselves into the playoffs in an impressive way. If you’re going to win this competition, you have to play at this standard every single game.”
(On the challenges that Seattle presents…)
BECKHAM: “Many, I've always been a big fan of Seattle as a franchise because they do things in a great way and they have done since they've come into the league. Last time we played in the [playoffs] there, we beat them with a great goal from Edson. The atmosphere was the best that I've ever been in, in this country. I’m a big fan of Seattle and they pose many difficulties. They've got good players, good team spirit and so it’s going to be a tough game. I think we have a good chance of progressing if we play our game. It’s not going to be easy.”
(On whether the Seattle crowd makes it more important for LA to get a result in first leg…)
BECKHAM: “No, I don’t think it matters. I love playing in atmospheres like that. It’s what I've done throughout my career. I love playing in opposing stadiums where they’re on their back and we've done it once or twice in Seattle, and we haven’t done it once or twice in Seattle. It’s important that we get a good result, a better one than we got in the first game against San Jose, but like I said before, they pose many difficulties for us. Either one of us could progress so it’s about who performs best on the day.”
BECKHAM: “I like him as a player, he’s very energetic, he tackles, he passes, and he can head the ball. He’s a very good player, I played with him in the all-star game and he’s a great kid as well. He’s a very good player, so they've got a few good players throughout their team. They've got good balance through their goalkeeper, their defense, good midfield players, and they've got attacking players that could score goals. It’s going to be a tough one.”
(On the turf field at CenturyLink Field…)
BECKHAM: “It doesn't effect my game too much. It’s not ideal playing on a surface like that and I've always said that throughout my career. It’s not an easy surface to play on, but it is what it is. We've drawn Seattle in the [Conference] Final and like I said, it’s not an ideal surface, but we’ll still play on it and it doesn’t effect my game too much.”
CARSON, Calif. – A.J. DeLaGarza stepped up his training on Saturday and is hoping to practice with the team next week.
The 25-year-old defender has been out with a sprained MCL in his left knee since suffering the injury during the Galaxy’s 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 30. On Saturday, DeLaGarza was spotted performing agility drills along the sideline during the portion of training that was open to the media ahead of LA's Western Conference Championship First Leg against Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday.
“I don’t know what my role is yet, I haven’t started practicing yet so hopefully next week we’ll get into that and see how that goes,” said DeLaGarza on Saturday. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to help the team, whether it’s as a role player or getting into a match or starting.”
Below are the injury reports for the Western Conference Championship match between the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.
LA GALAXY -- OUT: DF A.J. DeLaGarza (L knee sprain); DF Leonardo (R knee inflammation); MF Kyle Nakazawa (back spasms); QUESTIONABLE: DF David Junior Lopes (facial fracture); MF Christian Wilhelmsson (R quad tightness)
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC -- OUT: FW Babayele Sodade (R knee ACL surgery); DF Andrew Duran (L knee ACL surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Mauro Rosales (R hamstring strain); DF Leo Gonzalez (R hamstring strain); DF Patrick Ianni (R calf strain)
CARSON, Calif. – A focal part of the offense of Seattle Sounders FC has been the play of forward Eddie Johnson and his success has not gone unnoticed by his former U.S. National Team coach Bruce Arena.
It was Arena who gave Johnson his start with the U.S. in 2004 and subsequently selected him as part of the USMNT’s squad for the 2006 World Cup. Johnson made two appearances on a squad that failed to advance past the group stage, but was considered by some to be one of the few bright spots of that underachieving group.
Johnson quickly developed into a rising star in MLS and with the USMNT, ultimately leaving for EPL side Fulham. It was in old continent that trouble struck as Johnson could never hold down a spot with the Cottagers before bouncing around Europe with spells at Championship side Cardiff City, Greek club Aris, and lastly Championship club Preston North End.
This season, Johnson has reinvented himself with the Sounders by scoring 14 goals and three assists for Seattle while also earning a place back on Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team. When the Western Conference Championship kicks off on Sunday, stopping Johnson—and his forward partner Fredy Montero-will be key for LA to advance to their third MLS Cup in four tries.
On Saturday, the Galaxy boss told reporters that he was pleased with the way that Johnson has turned his career around over the last year.
“He’s had a really good year. He’s discovered his niche as a forward and that niche is to get at the end of service in the box. They make it pretty simple for him and he’s done his job and done it well,” said Arena. “I think he’s had a rough going over the last five years. It’s nice to see that he’s taken advantage of this opportunity.”
An update on the situation regarding ticket sales for Sunday's Western Conference Championship First Leg between the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC.
In response to a query from the LA Galaxy Insider on Saturday afternoon: "We are close to a sellout with limited tickets remaining. We opened the berm last night and are expecting a standing room crowd."
CARSON, Calif. -- Ahead of Sunday's Western Conference Championship First Leg, the following LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC players will be suspended for the second leg if they receive another yellow card.
LA Galaxy: DEF Omar Gonzalez, MID. David Beckham, MID: Marcelo Sarvas, MID: Juninho
Seattle Sounders FC: DEF. Jeff Parke, MID. Osvaldo Alonso, MID. Brad Evans
Remember, if one of these seven players is booked on Sunday, they will be suspended for the second leg, but if they pick a yellow in the second leg, they will not be suspended for the MLS Cup Final.
CARSON, Calif. -- Ahead of Sunday's Western Conference Championship First Leg, check out my Three Points to the game.
Agree or disagree with my observations? Leave your thoughts below.
CARSON, Calif. -- Time Warner Cable SportsNet has provided a pair of interesting videos on the ahead of Sunday's Western Conference Championship match against Seattle Sounders FC.
Access: SportsNet's host Chris Mcgee speaks to Galaxy rookie defender Tommy Meyer to discuss his recent play and preview Sunday's match against Seattle.
Mcgee also speaks to yours truly, to breakdown LA's victory in San Jose.
Be sure to check them out and leave your comments below.