CARSON, Calif. – It only took a few minutes for Los Angeles midfielder Dema Kovalenko to find a scuffle against Seattle. In the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series, the Galaxy’s feisty central midfielder exchanged words with Osvaldo Alonso after a collision in the fourth minute.
Against the Galaxy, especially Kovalenko, Sigi Schmid believes it will be important for the Sounders to keep their cool in Sunday night’s deciding game (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
“They are going to try to frustrate us and they have guys that are there just to frustrate us,” Schmid said on Saturday. “It’s just about being patient. When we get one goal, it changes their approach, too. So that’s our aim.”
Kovalenko is one of the more polarizing players in Major League Soccer. In the first leg, he played 70 minutes and earned praise from his captain Landon Donovan for being a part of midfield unit that Donovan thought “completely controlled the game.”
The Ukrainian has his detractors, as well, for physical play that often is described as dirty. Coming into Sunday’s match, Schmid is anticipating another physical encounter.
If Kovalenko once again earns the start over Chris Birchall, who plays the same position and started 23 games for the Galaxy in 2010, Seattle’s midfielders must be ready for a battle.
“We have to understand that the refereeing in the playoffs tends to be a little more lax and they let things go,” Schmid said, “so we have to be prepared for that and understand that and not think we are going to get fouls in certain situations.”
Nathan Sturgis says that players are well aware of Kovalenko’s reputation and playing style.
“He’s a tough defensive player so he’s always going to be close to you,” Sturgis said. “He’s going to tackle hard. You just have to realize that’s the type of player he is and be ready for that.”
If Kovalenko plays, he will be locked in a battle with Sturgis and Alonso. Over the past two seasons, the tenacious Cuban has emerged as one of the strongest defensive midfielders in the league. Before the first leg, Donovan complimented Alonso as “someone that every player respects.”
Alonso thought he and his teammates performed well against the Galaxy in the first leg.
“Our job in the midfield is to organize the game and defend as well as attack,” he said. “We just need to go down to LA and play like he know how to play and bring home the win.”
The Galaxy are ahead 1-0 on aggregate goals in the series and 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
With a win or tie on Sunday, they will host the Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center on Sunday, November 14 at 6 p.m. BUY TICKETS
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