The Seattle Sounders must navigate a dangerous conundrum against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday — push forward and find that all-important equalizer without giving up an away goal.
An entire season of work is riding on finding that balance.
“Every good player I think has butterflies going into a game,” coach Sigi Schmid said Saturday. “You always have that feeling ... It’s not nerves, and I think every player and every coach, you sort of have a routine — some call them superstitions — but you have a routine that you sort of settle into and that routine sort of calms you down so you’re ready for the storm.”
The Sounders and the Galaxy will conclude their two-leg, aggregate-score series at 6:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field. The advancing team will play host to Eastern Conference champion New England on Dec. 7.
The Galaxy holds a 1-0 advantage from the first leg last weekend in Carson, California. That means that a win or a draw will put Los Angeles through. However, because road goals are the first tiebreaker, Los Angeles also would advance with any one-goal loss except 1-0, which would send the game into added time and penalty kicks if needed. The Sounders would go through on any two-goal win.
Those scenarios are what force the Sounders into a delicate dance, because their best chances are by shutting out the Galaxy or by scoring multiple goals. However, those goals are often tactically at odds.
“We know that we can’t give up a goal at home or it makes it even harder for us,” said Seattle center back and MLS defender of the year Chad Marshall. “We definitely have to come out and we can’t go (too aggressively) forward trying to get goals. We have to be smart defensively.”
Yet, there is one certainly: The Sounders can’t advance unless they score. And the Galaxy hasn’t yet allowed a goal in these playoffs, while Seattle has gone 216 scoreless minutes since midfielder Osvaldo Alonso scored the Sounders’ only goal of the postseason on Nov. 2 at Dallas.
That means that Seattle’s designated-player forwards Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey haven’t scored in the playoffs yet after combining for 32 goals in the regular season.
“We’ve seen all season long that they’re very capable of being a potent attack and scoring goals,” L.A. defender Omar Gonzalez said. “I expect nothing less in this championship game. They have to pull out all the stops and they’re going to be at home, so they’re not going to be sitting back. They’re going to be coming at us, and it’s going to be a fast, intense game because of the (FieldTurf) surface and because of what this game means.”
For the loser, the game means the end of a long season. For the winner, it means a spot in the MLS Cup final, where a chance for unprecedented accomplishment would await either club.
Los Angeles hopes to become the first five-time winner of the MLS Cup. Seattle is striving to make the MLS Cup final for the first time, and then to become the first MLS team to win U.S. Open Cup, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup in the same season.
“Our message to the team is to be smart,” Schmid said. “To make sure we attack together as a group and we need to get some goals, but to be smart and to not to put ourselves in a situation that we need more goals than we (already) need.”