The thin red line… and a sea of LA Galaxy (11-4-15, 48 points) blue are all that stand between Seattle Sounders (10-13-10, 35 points) being a touch closer to a coveted playoff spot in the Western Conference in what is sure to be a September scorcher. Meanwhile, for the home team, this Sunday afternoon’s hot rivalry brings with it a chance to solidify their spot in the top 2 in the West that would give them a coveted first-round bye in the playoffs. This is the third match-up between the traditional rivals but a lot has changed for both since their last meeting in July at CenturyLink when they split the points in a 1-1 draw. History is on LA’s side though, as their strong home team record of 8-0-7, complements the difficulty Seattle has in securing a win in Carson. The Sounders have not won any of their 11 previous matches on the Galaxy’s home field. The Sounders will also be without Clint Dempsey, though they plan on having everyone else match-fit. But, with the recent upswing in Seattle’s midfield via game-changing newcomer Nicolas Lodeiro, things could get interesting and difficult for LA quickly if they can’t keep up with the Sounders’ pace. “We in all honestly very rarely focus on a player, but clearly [Jordan] Morris has been outstanding. He’s a kid with a great future. Lodeiro is an excellent player,” head coach and general manager Bruce Arena explained. “Clearly in an attack if you’re going to point to anybody, you’re going to point to Morris and Lodeiro.” The push and pull between Morris and Jelle Van Damme will be one key to Sunday’s match.
“We in all honestly very rarely focus on a player, but clearly [Jordan] Morris has been outstanding. He’s a kid with a great future. Lodeiro is an excellent player.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach
LA, unbeaten in the past 6 league matches, are coming off a litany of injuries this season but have pieced together a variety of lineups able to cope with the unexpected roster rotations. There are still reasons to feel concern for the next month and playoff season ahead. Steven Gerrard, out for the past five games, in regeneration on Wednesday, was unavailable to speak with media this morning, and his status remains uncertain. Landon Donovan’s game-saving goal last weekend, while a thrill to behold, also made it blatantly obvious that he’s able to fit a gap in shooting only a couple weeks into actual training, possibly pointing to a dilemma facing the Zardes-less Galaxy. “He’s getting better and is better than I thought because he’s been rushed into things. He’s literally in preseason,” Bruce Arena pleaded. “His minutes will be limited over the next few games.” Therefore looking to Donovan as the answer to all LA’s questions is a stretch. Meanwhile, the Galaxy’s typically stolid defense has shown signs of absent-mindedness in allowing 7 goals in the last 3 matches. Still, there are promises of improvement. Robbie Keane, who is match fit and back in the swing of things almost a week since his first full match remarked, “we lost 4 games all season. I think that says it all. But we’re at the crunch time.”Giovani Dos Santos, who hasn’t been in the starting lineup with Keane since their loss in NYC, and historically contributes more to the scoreboard in Keane’s absence (link to my article), is prepared to play in whatever capacity the team needs. “I’ve been training the whole week. I feel 100%. I don’t feel pain and I’m ready to go on Sunday,” he explained to reporters after Thursday’s practice. “For me, the important thing is the team. I just wanna play to help the team.”
“We lost four games all season. I think that says it all. But we’re at the crunch time.” Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy Captain
As for one of the top players of this season for LA, Jelle Van Damme, he’s honestly not concerned with receiving praise on a job well done just yet. “I think I just want to show myself and prove myself. I’m happy. I think, in general, I’m having a good first season. I just want to win the league. That’s what you do it for. At the end of the road, you want something from it. I want to play the last game in December,” Van Damme admits.
In spite of being second in the Western Conference standings now and even with their six-game unbeaten streak and home record intact, there’s very little to take for granted or even to be certain of at this point, other than a likely playoff spot. As Arena pointedly states, “when [we’re 100% sure of the playoff spot] I’ll be a little relieved. Hopefully, there’s a lot ahead from there. I think last year this time of year, you would have said everything is great. We were number one in the supporters shield and then things didn’t end up that well.” As everyone knows, supporters shield contenders and MLS Cup finalists are not one in the same. So enjoy this Sunday’s sun-drenched game but don’t get carried away with the results just yet.