The old saying about history repeating itself doesn’t necessarily apply on a soccer field.
The Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy are about to play the first of back-to-back matches, much as they did last month. However, if there is one thing the Sounders and Galaxy agree on, it is that those earlier games won’t matter once the first kick is struck in the MLS Western Conference finals at 2 p.m. Sunday at StubHub Center.
“It’s different,” Seattle forward Clint Dempsey said. “That was for the league, and it didn’t have away-goal implications, where this is a clean slate. This is the playoffs, and it’s an opportunity to do something different. So I’m sure it will still be two difficult games, but we got confidence from those two games in terms of they were two games where we had to get the right results to win the league. And for us to go to the final we’re going to have to get the same result as well.”
The games that ended the Sounders’ and Galaxy’s regular seasons even rolled out in the same order as this playoff series: first at L.A., then in Seattle. Also similarly, there was plenty at stake. The teams went into that pair of games tied in MLS regular-season points and with those two games certain to determine the Supporters’ Shield winner.
At L.A., the Sounders fell two goals down before rallying for a 2-2 tie. Then they clinched their first Supporters’ Shield with a 2-0 win at home.
“If it goes the same way, I’ll be very happy,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’d be very happy with a draw down there and then coming home and winning at home. But you never know. Each game — as I often say — takes on its own personality. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be two good teams playing each other. Both teams know the winner of this series hosts MLS Cup, and that’s extra motivation.”
After the teams met in that regular-season showdown, each headed to the Western Conference semifinals. The Sounders played to 1-1 and 0-0 draws with No. 4 FC Dallas, advancing on the away goal. Los Angeles opened with a scoreless draw at No. 3 Real Salt Lake before returning home and putting RSL away with a 5-0 win so dominating that it drew questions of Galaxy overconfidence this week.
“We don’t go into any of these games overconfident,” L.A. coach Bruce Arena said. “We go into these games, prepared, confident, respectful of our opponent and trying to get our team as ready to play as we can.”
The Galaxy could gain additional confidence from the availability of goals leader Robbie Keane and central defender Omar Gonzalez. Both missed the regular-season finale in Seattle, Gonzalez because of red-card suspension and Keane as a health precaution on CenturyLink Field’s artificial surface.
Each team seems to be heading into this series near full strength, with only L.A. defender Leonardo (hamstring) and Seattle defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (leg) announced as questionable.
The absence of four-time Sounders MVP Alonso would be significant, especially to a Sounders defense facing the highest-scoring offense in MLS.
“In the game here in L.A. we still let in two goals, so I think we got to look at what we did wrong,” Seattle midfielder Brad Evans said. “Two mistakes, and against a team like that, they’ll punish you. … Goals can come from anywhere against this team. They’re so dangerous and everybody plays a big role for them. We’ve got to look back at what we did well, what we didn’t do well, and at the end of the day we can talk tactics all we want, but the fact of it is we have to come out and do our best on Sunday.”