Huge day in the Western Conference tomorrow as the #4 Seattle Sounders face the conference and league-topping Los Angeles Galaxy.
Seattle-L.A is the biggest game in American soccer. This rivalry doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of Seattle-Portland, but this truly is the class of the league squaring off. When these two teams meet it is a referendum of the state of the game in the States. These are the two most ambitious, deep-pocketed clubs in the league. Both have legendary coaches and teams aren’t afraid to throw around big money, as both scour the globe for up-and-coming talent and marquee names.
Unfortunately L.A. usually gets the better of Seattle. Sure there’s been outliers, we trounced them 3-nil in 2012 and won the home-and-home for the Shield last year, but L.A. has always been a cut above. They are personally responsible for half of our playoff defeats (2010, 2012, 2014), and both in the Conference finals. They picked our pocket for the Shield in 2011. Taken another way, if we lived in a Scott Bakula-esque alternative timeline where the Los Angeles Galaxy didn’t exist, Seattle would have two Shields and, potentially, two MLS Cups. The Galaxy have just been a brick wall on Seattle’s drive to the top. Portland can say they hate us, but, other than 2013 (when we weren’t doing much anyway), they’ve been little more than a roadside distraction.
The unsaid but obvious goal of 2015 was to prove Seattle was finally better than L.A. We beat them head-to-head for the Shield last season and only just found ourselves on the wrong side of a new playoff tiebreaker. Sigi and co. were ready to prove they’d amassed a roster that was better than Bruce Arena’s. Unfortunately this year hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. L.A. won a 1-nil affair back in April and trounced us 3-1 in August. In neither game was Seattle at full-strength. In the first matchup we started a front six of Neagle, Oba, Roldan, Rose, a rusty Ozzie (his first 90 minute start of the year) and Pappa. Plus Mansaray and Kovar saw minutes. In the August thrashing, we started Thomas, Rose, Neagle and Barrett as the attacking front of our 4-2-3-1. Not exactly the roster the front office had in mind dreaming of the rematches after last year’s disappointing finish.
Sunday’s matchup will only get us a little closer to testing whether we’ve surpassed the Gals, as Marshall will definitely not play. But Sigi should have his best selection so far. Valdez, Ivanschitz, Oba and Deuce should all start. Friberg will be back in the midfield with Ozzie. The backfour will be shaky with Evans and Scott as the likely CBS and either Remick or Leo joining Mears at fullback. Oniel Fisher probably won’t go, but Remick has started both games against L.A. and knows the team well and Leo is a savvy veteran and better defender who just lacks speed.
BOLD PREDICTION: Goals will be scored. Los Angeles has given up the third-most goals in the conference, 38. Only SKC has given up more as a playoff team. Goalie Donovan Ricketts isn’t his scary self from 2013 and has gotten, well, rickety. An attacking front of Ivanschitz plus the DPs should find joy on Sunday night. But so will L.A.’s big-name attack.
The Galaxy score more goals than any other team (except for Toronto, with whom they’re tied), with 52. That’s 13 more than your Rave Green. So expect Scott and Evans to be tested all game long. Frei has been solid, but we will not get a clean sheet.
The player I’m really watching is Marco Pappa. He’s a big player who plays big in big games against L.A. The dagger he slotted home to clinch the Shield last year was a sounders instant classic. Does Sigi roll out the new big money boys, or stick to what works and give Pappa significant minutes.
Clint needs to rediscover his scoring touch. He had it in red, white and blue this summer, but has been dogged by the post and bad finishing lately. If Deuce can once again get clinical, we win 3-2. If Deuce has another spotty showing like last weekend, L.A. sweeps 2-1. (ok, so this is my first ever hedged bold prediction. I just have no reading on this game). C’mon Seattle, FIGHT AND WIN!!