Preview: LA at Seattle
Seattle Sounders FC (13-10-7, 46 points, fourth in Western Conference) vs. LA Galaxy (18-7-5, 59 points, first in West) at Qwest Field in Seattle.
5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
Two of the most successful coaches in Major League Soccer, Seattle’s Sigi Schmid and Los Angeles’ Bruce Arena, face off in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Some pundits consider this Western Conference home-and-away matchup the toughest of the first round.
Certainly it has a symmetry: The Galaxy posted the best record in the first 15 games of the season (11-1-3) while Seattle posted the best second-half record (10-2-3).
Fredy Montero (10 goals, 10 assists) and Steve Zakuani (10 goals, six assists) power Seattle’s attack. Landon Donovan (seven goals, 16 assists) and Edson Buddle (17 goals, two assists) lead the Galaxy.
Seattle Sounders FC
Two losses to end the regular season? No matter. The Sounders have shaken off two consecutive 2-1 losses against Saprissa and the Houston Dynamo to turn their sights to the postseason.
In the team’s first year of existence, they were held to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the playoffs by the Houston Dynamo, eventually losing that series.
This Sounders team, which features six players 25 years old or younger in the starting lineup, will attempt to show they’ve learned from that experience by topping the Galaxy on Halloween night in front of their always-rowdy home crowd of well more than 30,000.
“We just have to be careful,” said Schmid. “I think earlier in the season, LA had a lot of success when they played very defensive and looked to counterattack on the odd occasion. It’s important for us not to get caught up in the ‘hurrah’ of going forward and expose ourselves in the back. I feel confident we can do that.”
Another year, another postseason berth for one of the league’s landmark franchises. Arena has successfully woven David Beckham back into the starting lineup after the English superstar recovered from an Achilles injury suffered in Italy.
But if there’s an area of concern for the Supporters’ Shield winner, it’s in the back: LA have just one shutout in their past 10 matches. Arena said that veteran Gregg Berhalter, who generally partners with Omar Gonzalez in central defense, is healthy after being limited to 73 minutes since August 14. If he’s unable to go, A.J. DeLaGarza would likely step into the starting lineup.
“We did a good job of [defending] last year against Chivas and Houston,” Galaxy left back said of his team’s playoff experience, “and if we can carry that in and keep a good defensive shape, it frustrates the other team.”
Heroes & villains
Sean Franklin vs. Steve Zakuani: Montero may have the keys to the car, but left midfielder Zakuani has increasingly become its engine. Every team has difficulty dealing with speed, and Los Angeles are no different. Right back Franklin’s vigilance will be key to keep the second-year player off the board. Sanna Nyassi vs. Todd Dunivant on the opposite side of the field will also be a matchup to watch.
Stat that makes you go “Hmm"
19: career playoff wins for Schmid, tops in MLS history and three more than Arena (16).
Keys to the Game
- Get at least a goal to carry into second leg in LA.
- Be disciplined, don’t give counterattack of Galaxy opportunities.
- Get a free kick, where David Beckham has a chance to do damage.
- Keeps defensive shell to limit Seattle’s pass-happy attack.
OUT: MF Brad Evans (R patellar tendon); DF Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (L ACL); FW Pat Noonan (adductor strain); MF Peter Vagenas (R quadriceps strain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Terry Boss (foot pain)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Chris Birchall (R calf contusion)
Galaxy travel to Seattle this Sunday, October 31 for a 5 p.m. match
against the Sounders on ESPN2/Deportes. The Galaxy will then host
Seattle in the second game of the two-leg, home-and-home Western
Conference Semifinals on Sunday, November 7 at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. BUY TICKETS