BY KAYLA KNAPP
The Los Angeles Galaxy have a monumental advantage heading into the second leg of the Western Conference final against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night. Up three goals to none, the defending champions only have 90 minutes standing between them and a second consecutive MLS Cup final appearance.
The Sounders haven’t given up though, and are going to put up a tireless fight. They will try to take advantage of a Galaxy squad that could be without a number of its starters. Captain Landon Donovan [R hamstring strain tightness], midfielder Juninho [R Achilles inflammation] and forward Edson Buddle [L plantar inflammation] are all questionable for Sunday’s match.
That is a huge portion of the Galaxy attack that could see limited (or no) minutes. Injuries to more defensive players would be worse considering the large lead Los Angeles holds, but losing key cogs in a team that has gelled so well in the last few months will certainly hurt their chances. If Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena is forced to insert some younger players into his lineup, Seattle will look to pounce on those weaker links.
There are also injury concerns for Seattle. Playmaker Mauro Rosales [R hamstring strain] isn’t fully recovered yet, and whether he plays on Sunday (or for how long) will be a game-time decision from Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. Defender Leo Gonzalez [R hamstring strain] is also questionable, but if available would be a huge boost for the Seattle backline.
It’s going to take a massive effort from Seattle to overcome the deficit. Expect them to throw everything at the Galaxy defense from the opening minute of play. But don’t anticipate Los Angeles parking the bus too early in this one – the Sounders offense is too potent for any team to endure wave after wave of attacks without conceding. The Galaxy will try to keep from being pinned back in their defensive third, and play their game, the one that has seen them get two resounding wins in their last two matches. Seattle on the other hand, has nothing to lose and won’t hold back – this will be an all-out battle at CenturyLink Field.
Here is a closer look at the second leg of the Western Conference finals:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA: Nov. 18, 6pm PT, ESPN
SEASON SERIES: Before last Sunday’s match, the Sounders had outscored Los Angeles 6-1 in their three prior meetings this year, and won the season series, 2-1-0. But now in the post-season, their 3-0 loss to the Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Conference finals is the only result that has any meaning.
KEY PLAYERS – SEATTLE SOUNDERS: F Fredy Montero, F Eddie Johnson, M Mauro Rosales, GK Michael Gspurning LOS ANGELES GALAXY: F Robbie Keane, M Landon Donovan, D Omar Gonzalez, GK Josh Saunders
MATCH-UP TO WATCH– Omar Gonzalez and Tommy Meyer vs. Fredy Montero: In the first leg, the two Galaxy center backs kept the dangerous striker in check while he was on the pitch. Montero struggled to find space and create opportunities last Sunday, something he will have to do tomorrow. With the Sounders sitting in a three goal hole, Montero will need to step up and break his playoff-goal drought while the Galaxy defense must do what they did last game and make him a non-factor.
OUTLOOK – Obviously the Sounders have a deep hole they will need to dig themselves out of. Heading into this second leg with a three-goal deficit, Seattle must score early and often if they want a chance to move on to MLS Cup. The Galaxy must focus on playing their game. If Los Angeles can avoid bunkering too early in the match, and even get on the scoreboard just once, they should be able to see themselves through to the final.
While the Sounders clearly have a team oozing with talent, they aren’t nearly as effective without Mauro Rosales on the pitch. While his status for Sunday is going to be a game-time decision, and he may play, he still won’t be match-fit and likely not at 100%. Los Angeles have some injuries and knocks they are dealing with as well, but expect them to come out on the offensive. They aren’t likely to keep Seattle off the scoreboard, but the Galaxy should be able to defend their three-goal lead.