Western Conference’s third-place LA Galaxy (9-3-8) head to Seattle (6-12-2) to face their historic rivals for the third time in July in the Galaxy’s second consecutive road match on July 31st at Century Link amidst a backdrop of uncertainty for the hosts after long-time head coach Sigi Schmid’s departure, but for five-time MLS Cup champions who are on a 4-game winning streak in league play (6 overall, including U.S. Open Cup), the future is looking bright.
LA are eyeing up two trophies and are on track to make history if all goes according to plan and luck — assuming the injuries are kept under control and rest periods are are managed. This could become the best season ever with Bruce Arena at the helm. Their defense is arguably the best in MLS at this stage, allowing just two goals in the past six games. And their 19 goals allowed this season are second fewest in the league. Much of that is due to the rise in performance by Brian Rowe and a deep bench, along with an increased defensive awareness across the board. Gyasi Zardes’ growth in set piece defending this season has been noteworthy and was highlighted in last week’s match against Portland by goalkeeper Brian Rowe as being critical. “On set pieces, getting back and defending. In the last 20 minutes [Portland] had the most position and were really coming back. We had [Robbie] Keane coming back, Gyasi [Zardes] coming back, all these guys defending for us. It was really a great team effort.” Rowe underscored.
As for the Sounders, who’ve been in the playoffs every year, this season hasn’t been kind. The memories of the Supporters’ Shield two seasons ago are fading into the distance. They’re currently just a point away from grazing the bottom of the table. This past Tuesday, after the fallout from a 3-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City, the only coach Seattle has ever known, one of the two godfathers of MLS coaching (the other being Bruce Arena), announced a mutual agreed upon separation from the club. The Sounders’ issues stemming from rumored ruined player-manager relationships, to a lack of consistency by veteran players Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso, the loss of Obafemi Martins and the lack of impact from younger players (barring Jordan Morris), have all led to a team identity crisis in Seattle.
Lagerwey: "I did my best to be deferential, if anything, over the past 18 months.”
— Matt Pentz (@mattpentz) July 26, 2016
LA and Seattle have faced each other twice this month. First on July 9th in Seattle, when the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane notched the sole goal of the match and then in LA which the hosts won 4-2 in Open Cup quarterfinal action, knocking Seattle out of contention for their fifth Lamar Hunt USOC trophy.
The Galaxy’s building chemistry and early goal lead had a lot to do with their win against Portland Timbers last weekend where they held onto the 2-1 win at Providence Park in spite of a dodgy second half. It’s probably a good bet that will be tactic again this weekend in Seattle. LA’s last minute road giveaways to Colorado and Montreal earlier on in the season have seemingly taught them the lessons needed to hold on till the last second but it is a full team effort.
Arena’s quick to defend LA’s game management on the road. “Again, we’ve played two games 95 minutes that we lost in the 95th minute that should have been 92, 93 minute games. So we’ve played basically every game on the road this year we’ve had a chance to win the game or get a point,” he points out. “We have an experienced group of guys that if we need to protect a lead, we can protect a lead. I tell you, today, you could see the guys that played on Wednesday struggled over the last 20-30 minutes and we knew that was going to happen. We hung in there and that’s the most important thing.” Though LA have room for growth in maintaining pressure for the full 90+ minutes, the wins have been coming due to a balance between the solid performances of Jelle Van Damme, A.J. DeLaGarza, Jeff Larentowicz and the rest of the backline along with the consistently growing trust and partnership between Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes and newcomer Emmanuel Boateng.
“We have a very important analytic, and that’s the score. That distorts all the other statistics.” Aside from the error in word choice above, Arena’s point is valid – all that matters at the very end is the score. A win is a win, even if the team that played ‘better’ by the numbers didn’t win. As for a number that probabaly is a good indicator of success for LA when it comes to Seattle, it’s #7. Robbie Keane, since his return from a disheartening Euros and now rumored to announce his official international retirement, has scored 3 goals in his past 4 games and has been a regular thorn in Seattle’s side with seven goals and three assists in 10 regular season matches against the Sounders. He’s a force to be reckoned with, especially when he has something to fight for.
This isn’t a match LA can take for granted in spite of Seattle’s current track record. In front of a sold-out crowd on turf that aging players don’t easily recover from playing a team that has everything to lose, and every reason to push for a win in their new era, LA ought to expect a big battle from interim head coach Brian Schmetzer’s lineup. As such Arena has announced that all hands are basically on deck and that Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Nigel de Jong are expected to play this Sunday. Buckle up!
Kickoff is Sunday at 1:00 p.m. PT at CenturyLink Field and will be televised on ESPN.