When the Seattle Sounders take the StubHub Center field on Sunday for the first leg of the Western Conference Championship (5 pm ET), it’ll be tempting to prematurely write them off just because they’re going up against the most in-form, momentum-backed team still alive in the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs, the LA Galaxy.
Not that anyone would write off the Sounders, who this year became just the second team in MLS history to win the US Open Cup and Supporters Shield in the same season. While they certainly struggled a 0-0 second-leg home draw and 1-1 aggregate victory over FC Dallas, thanks to nothing more than the new away-goals rule, let us not forget they won that Supporters Shield title by drawing and defeating the Galaxy on back-to-back weekends — aggregate score of 4-2 — at the end of the regular season.
That brings to the Galaxy’s case for running away with this thing, their matchup with Real Salt Lake two weeks ago. The Galaxy hosted RSL in the Western Conference semifinals second leg and were tied 0-0 on aggregate before kickoff. By the time it was over, 5-0 was the final score, and the Galaxy couldn’t have looked any more convincing on the night.
In a recent MLS Insider piece, Galaxy forward Landon Donovan says, “Not many teams beat Salt Lake that way. There was a part of me that was thinking, ‘Let’s send a message to everybody, that we mean business.'” Message heard, loud and clear.
In most cases, a Galaxy side coming off that kind of thrashing of a perennial playoff giant would figure to spell the end for the next round’s opponent. But then you remember this Sounders team is, just like the Galaxy, not just great, but historically great.
|GF||GA||Shots/gm||SoG/gm||Total passes/gm||Key passes/gm||Short passes/gm||Long passes/gm||Shots allowed/gm|
|Galaxy||69 (1st)||37 (1)||15.7 (1)||5.8 (1)||480.5 (1)||12.7 (1)||357.5 (1)||36.8 (4)||10.2 (1)|
|Sounders||65 (2)||50 (9)||13.8 (6)||5.6 (2)||452.8 (4)||10.7 (8)||332.2 (4)||29.3 (16)||12.7 (8)|
Stats via WhoScored.com
Key matchup: Landon Donovan/Robbie Rogers vs. DeAndre Yedlin/Lamar Neagle
This is where the Galaxy hold a fair advantage, and the key to the series. Yedlin, for all his promise and potential, is still a suspect and absentminded defender at times. And who’ll be looking to exploit that weakness on Sunday? Only MLS’s most prolific goalscorer and assist provider of all-time. Serious advantage: Galaxy.
Neagle’s urge to get forward and leave Yedlin on an island in transition will have to be fought very hard by the 27-year-old who tallied nine goals and nine assists during the regular season. Otherwise, Donovan will do to Yedlin what he did to RSL’s much more experienced Tony Beltran two weeks ago.
It’ll be the team whose duo, both offensively and defensively, wins that territorial battle that controls the game’s overall pace and width — slower and more narrow in the Sounders’ preference, much faster and wider if the Galaxy have their way.
Prediction: Galaxy 1-0 Sounders