CARSON, Calif. – A great deal has transpired in the four months since the LA Galaxy last played Seattle Sounders FC.
The Galaxy hit a flat stretch during the middle third of the regular season, but still went on to win the coveted Supporters’ Shield for owning the best record in MLS. The Sounders, on the other hand, have fashioned MLS’ best record over the last half of the season (10-2-3, compared to the Galaxy’s 7-6-2) and enter Sunday’s first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal Series matchup with LA with considerable momentum.
The Sounders’ late-season push is something that has not gone unnoticed in these parts.
“They’re a very good team,” the Galaxy’s Mike Magee said. “They play really well at home, they’ll have probably 40,000 fans there and they play well on that turf.
“The last time we went [to Qwest Field]” – a 4-0 win on May 8 – “we got a good result, and that probably left a bad taste in their mouths. We have to have a good mentality this time.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said it’s not so much that the Sounders have made a number of changes but that they have jelled at the right time.
“Let’s face it,” he said. “There’re no secrets at this point. We all know each other, we’ve seen each other play throughout the season."
“We’re well aware of the qualities of the Sounders, and I’m sure they’re well aware of our qualities as well.”
Defender Todd Dunivant said he isn’t sure what the Galaxy can learn from its two victories over Seattle this season (including a 3-1 victory at The Home Depot Center on July 4), but he did concede the Sounders, who beat LA 2-0 in the U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinals in Tukwila, Wash. on July 7, are “dangerous.”
“They’ve been hot the second half of the year,” Dunivant said. “But it all comes down to how you play in the playoffs. Momentum aside, it matters who comes out in these first two games and wins the series.”
Magee said the Sounders look particularly formidable in the counterattack, thanks to the likes of Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani, who have combined for 20 goals and 16 assists on the season, and speed on the wings in the form of Sanna Nyassi.
Magee was asked how he knew so much about the Sounders.
“It’s our playoff opponent,” he said with a grin. “You have to.”
Seattle (14-10-6), who surpassed their 2009 totals in wins, shutouts and points, lost defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in May to a season-ending torn knee ligament, Nate Jaqua missed the first half of the season because of abdominal surgery and Freddie Ljungberg was traded to the Chicago Fire on July 30. But the emergence of former Galaxy draft pick Nathan Sturgis and the post-World Cup addition of former FC Twente striker Blaise N’kufo (5 goals in 11 games) have solidified the squad, as has the new-look central defensive pairing of Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni. And there’s always Kasey Keller in goal, with his 11 shutouts and a 1.15 goals-against average this season.
“I think they’ve got a good balance in their attack,” Arena said, “and they’re been pretty solid defensively. Their speed on the flanks has been dangerous for them and they have two guys in front of the goal who can finish off plays.
“They’ve been a well-balanced team and they’ve been able to have a little continuity in their lineup. In our case, that hasn’t happened basically all year. That’s another reason why they’ve been successful.”
Magee said it didn’t matter that the Galaxy faces such a tough foe this early in the postseason.
“You gotta go with the best teams,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to find teams at this point of the season that aren’t going to give you a good battle.
“If you’re looking to win the championship, you have to beat the next-best team.”