90 minutes of soccer — or, perhaps 120 — on Sunday (9:20 pm ET) is all that stands in the way of either the Seattle Sounders or LA Galaxy hosting the New England Revolution in the 2014 MLS Cup final next Sunday (3 pm ET).
Bruce Arena‘s Galaxy hold a slim 1-0 aggregate lead on Sigi Schmid‘s Sounders following last week’s first-leg matchup at StubHub Center. While the Galaxy’s lead is slim, it comes with the added benefit of having not conceded an all-important away goal in their home leg.
A single away goal for the Galaxy means the Sounders must win the second leg by two goals or more to advance. In short, it’s the Galaxy’s best path to knock off the only team able to keep pace with their own torrid scoring rate during the regular season (Galaxy – 69, Sounders – 65).
The Galaxy will hope to do what the New England Revolution couldn’t do on Saturday, and because of that, found themselves nearly heading to extra time: slow the game and play it in the middle third of the field, rather than as a track meet, back and forth from one end to the other.
If the Sounders succeed in stretching the game and opening things up considerably, it’s a 50-50 coin toss who’ll go through and host MLS Cup next Sunday (3 pm ET). The two teams’ attacking units basically cancel one another out on the break, with the defenses doing much the same during moments of weakness in a wide open game. But if the Galaxy can slow the game down a bit and hold long bouts of possession, the Sounders will struggle and eventually become desperate.
The suspected return of midfield destroyer and general Osvaldo Alsono (hamstring strain) makes this a much taller task, of course. His ability to not only break up play in the middle third of the field, but also serve as the jumping-off point for the counter-attack back the other way is unparalleled in MLS. He’s been the Sounders’ most important player for three or four years now, and his absence was sorely felt in the first leg. They were predictable, slow in transition and infrequent to get out and run.
Another key cog in that devastating Sounders counter-attack, Lamar Neagle (personal matters), is expected to return as well. His availability, but most importantly his natural tendency to stay wide on the right side of attack, does two key things for the Sounders: 1) Allows Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins to stay central and cut straight up the center of the field, and 2) Occupy left back Robbie Rogers and midfielder Landon Donovan, freeing up the pacy, overlapping runs out of the back from DeAndre Yedlin.
Tempo, tempo, tempo. It’s the key to most games, but doubly so in this one.
Prediction: Sounders 2-1 Galaxy