MLS playoff preview: Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy

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There is precious little time for the Western Conference finalists to savor and dote on their recent sweet accomplishments.

Late Wednesday evening the Galaxy did what most of us predicted they could not, storming into San Jose to upend the league’s top regular season team. And how!  Bruce Arena’s team found a gear we haven’t seen in a while – just  in the nick of time – to kick San Jose around pretty good.

One night later, Seattle finally delivered that first MLS playoff series win, the one fans have been jonesing for since their club added a festive splash of rave green greatness to the league in 2009.

They meet Sunday outside Los Angeles to kick off the home-and-away, total goals series.

MLS Western Conference finals

Sunday’s Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET, Home Depot Center, ESPN

On the Los Angeles Galaxy

  • For all the L.A. “Galacticos” star power, who has made the moments most consistently in the post-season lately? That would be Mike Magee, who contributed three goals during L.A.’s dash to the MLS Cup run last year, and then provided the series-winner against San Jose.
  • Irish international striker Robbie Keane is putting on a clinic these days of sharp off-the-ball movement. He works the channels between defensive elements brilliantly, dropping in and then dropping out, moving off the markers at just the right time or slashing across a pair of them as he did for L.A.’s second goal against San  Jose.

(MORE: Keane shreds San Jose’s wobbly defense)

  • Meanwhile, Landon Donovan has moved out to the right in the Galaxy’s 4-4-2 (rather than as Keane’s partner along the strike line). He simply looks more comfortable out there. And given Beckham’s natural tendency to drift right, Donovan scoots inside liberally, which gives defenders a lot to think about and deal with.
  • Given all the other potentially defining pieces, it’s hard to settle on one element that will decide this series. But here’s one that sure could go far in revealing a winner: Seattle’s Alonso against Galaxy do-all Juninho in the center of the park.
  • Galaxy rookie Tommy Meyer has earned his MLS playoff cred over three matches so far. What Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said of Meyer after Wednesday’s win in San Jose: “Tommy became a man tonight. We’re going to need that at least two more times, hopefully three more times, out of him. And if he plays like that, we’ve really got a chance.”

On the Seattle Sounders

  • At this time last year we would have spoken about Los Angeles as Seattle’s unbeatable nemesis. No longer; the Sounders’ took two matches from L.A. this year. (The Sounders did lose in L.A. on the regular season’s final match date, a hard-to-define contest that meant absolutely nothing to both clubs.)
  • Seattle doesn’t give up a lot of goals, which usually indicates a rough and tough back line. In this case, the back line isn’t bad, but it’s really more about two things: First, it’s about holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, the league’s top midfield ball winner, a man who zooms around all over the field with shin-kicking menace. And it’s about goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, whose calm presence and able shot-stopping has relieved fears around Seattle that Kasey Keller might somehow prove irreplaceable.
  • Seems like we are talking about goalkeeping a lot in the 2012 playoffs, so let’s throw this out there: Gspurning looks like the top netminder remaining in the playoffs. He really does look unbeatable lately.
  • Sigi Schmid’s team managed to cope without top creator Mauro Rosales in Utah on Thursday’s night. But the Sounders’ chances rise if their right-sided midfielder (and top crossing threat) can get back on the field.
  • Either way, on the other side of the field, this is a big chance for Mario Martinez or Steve Zakuani to exploit the Galaxy’s weary legs and to make Landon Donovan (who has played lately on the Galaxy’s right side) work back and defend.
  • Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson have two goals each this year against the Galaxy.
  • Should be interesting to watch the pair vs. Omar Gonzalez and Meyer. The Galaxy center backs tend to be better matched against the bigger bangers at striker, a la San Jose’s top choices. The more mobile Montero could prove slightly more problematic.
  • Sounders thinking-man midfielder Brad Evans on Mario Martinez’s strike, of the sensational and stunning variety, Thursday in Utah that sent Seattle into the conference finals: “It was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. You see those one or twice a year — that’s it. … It came at a perfect time.”

(MORE: Sigi Schmid stretches to find some motivation for his team)

Bottom line:

It’s really about which Galaxy team shows up. Things weren’t looking so swell, and the Galaxy looked a bit labored and long in the tooth over its first 180 minutes of playoff soccer. But what a spirited and energetic effort they delivered to blow San Jose’s boat out of the Bay.

Seattle’s defense was strong against Real Salt Lake, although RSL just has not been scoring goals lately. So, dealing with Beckham, Donovan, Magee and Keane will be a far more difficult job.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, who won an MLS Cup inside the Home Depot Center four years ago, says his team will be physically prepared, never mind one night’s less rest. They had better be.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check it out:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.

Men in Blazers podcast: Transfer window, USMNT at Gold Cup, RBNY-NYCFC

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Men In Blazers are back with their latest podcast, and the boys are hitting club soccer here and abroad as well as Bruce Arena’s men in the red, white, and blue.

Rog and Davo break down transfer window activity, rumored and real; get a heat check on the USMNT heading into the Gold Cup; and recap the (Ray) Hudson River Derby.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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