The LA Galaxy are gearing up for the Seattle Sounders on Saturday and with a full-capacity crowd, everyone — players and coaches — are looking forward to it.
Saturday will feature one of the most highly anticipated games of the Major League Soccer season at Dignity Health Sports Park.
No, LAFC isn’t in town to face the Galaxy. But the high-flying Seattle Sounders, the league’s lone unbeaten team at 5-0-3, are paying a visit and what potentially could be DHSP’s first full-capacity crowd in well over a year will be on hand to watch the showdown (6 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet) between the Western Conference rivals.
The Galaxy’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, the league leader in goals with seven — Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz is next with six — had a heartfelt message to the Galaxy’s long-suffering fans, the majority of whom have not been able to attend home matches because of statewide COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions. Many of those, however, were lifted earlier this week.
“We are so happy that you can finally come back and support us,” he told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the only thing that’s in my mind, in my feelings.
“I think I can speak for the team that we are so happy that we can finally have that environment, even though in the other games we were proud of the fans. Now hopefully we can have full capacity and it will be amazing that they will be back here.”
Added Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney, “My estimation here is the guys are going to be very excited to be back in front of the energy that’s going to be in the stadium, and that’s going to have them kind of amped up.”
The Galaxy, unbeaten at home this season in four matches (4-0-0), will be facing a Sounders team that has allowed a league-low three goals in eight matches. Seattle, which defeated the Galaxy 3-0 on May 2 at Lumen Field, also has allowed only one goal in its last four matches, that lone score coming in a 1-1 tie with Atlanta on May 23.
Vanney said there are several reasons why Seattle continues to be such a formidable opponent. The Sounders have finished no lower than second in the West in each of the last four seasons.
“One of them is it’s such a mature group of players who have played a lot of big games and have played together a lot,” Vanney said. “They make mature decisions; they usually don’t make many little mistakes that cost them. When they’re absorbing pressure they’re capable of absorbing those moments, not giving up goals and getting something in own their counter-attack, and all of a sudden the game looks completely different than it did just a few minutes ago.
“They don’t need a ton of chances sometimes to make you pay. It’s a group that when I look at them I see maturity. You have to go beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves, and that puts a lot of onus on us or the teams that play them.
“You have to really earn the win,” he went on. “Right now they’re one of the teams we have to get through to have any chance of being a championship contender.”
The Galaxy are coming off a three-week international break and last played on May 29, when they shut out the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 for their second consecutive clean sheet at home. Hernandez, however, didn’t think the stoppage in play will affect any momentum the team had built so far this season.
“We try to look at it in the best way possible. Look at the bright side of the situation,” he said. “Sometimes these breaks can help teams that have been struggling. Sometimes there are going to be teams in good form and a break will affect them. It’s up to us mentally and emotionally that we can maintain the consistency we showed in the first seven games we played.
“It’s going to be complicated, but we are thinking in the most positive and confident way, and hopefully we can do our best.”
NO REST FOR THE WEARY
It’s shaping up to be a busy year, to say the least, for Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget.
He is the only player to appear in all seven U.S. men’s national team matches this year, he leads the team with 459 minutes played and he could take part in as many as eight World Cup qualifiers this fall. There also is the little matter of playing for the Galaxy, which still has 27 games left in the regular season, and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which will be held July 10 through Aug. 1. Lletget might be on that roster as well.
Lletget said he felt ready for what’s ahead.
“It’s going to be physically taxing, for sure,” he said. “But just taking it one step at a time is the only real way of getting through it. I think going into this year I think I focused more on the exciting part of it. So many big games, so many things, a brand new staff here. A lot of big games coming up with the national team.
“It’s up to me to take care of myself and do everything I can physically and mentally to be in a good place for both. Just kind of compartmentalizing and taking things in stride and breaking things up.
“It’s going to be a lot,” he continued, “but I just have to take it day by day.”
Lletget grinned when he was asked if he’s estimated the number of miles he potentially could travel this year.
“That’s a good one,” he said with a laugh. “I hope I get the miles for them. I know we travel private for most of them. It’s going to be crazy, but this is what it’s all about. You want to be in as many games as possible as a professional.
“I’m excited about it more than anything.”
Vanney said the injury front looks good for this weekend. The only exception could be Jonathan dos Santos, who continues to recover from a calf strain and likely will be listed as questionable for Seattle.
“We’re hopeful he can be involved,” Vanney said. “We don’t know for sure yet. Everybody else is healthy and ready to go.”
That includes midfielder Victor Vazquez, who left the earlier Seattle match in the 65th minute with a groin strain. He missed the next three matches but returned to play 27 minutes against San Jose.
Reinforcements are arriving, with several players returning from respective national-team duties. Only Carlos Harvey (Panama, World Cup qualifying) and Augie Williams (Sierra Leone, Africa Cup of Nations qualification) have been absent from training, but Vanney was hoping they would return soon.
“Hopefully get them in this week, barring any issues,” he said. “Passport or otherwise, they should be able to get back. But no guarantees there.”
Nothing is official yet, but there were reports that Hernandez would be included on Mexico’s 60-player preliminary roster for the upcoming Gold Cup. The Galaxy striker, who received a strong endorsement from Vanney a week ago, preferred to take a “let’s see” approach when asked about it.
“It’s always an honor to see when your name appears on any national team, even if it’s a pre (preliminary) list,” said Hernandez, who has not been called up to the national team since September, 2019. “When I started my career I was on a pre list for the Gold Cup and I didn’t go in the end.
“Still a long way to go. It’s a pre list, I’m happy, then we’ll see when the final list (comes out) if my name is going to be there. Then we can talk about that.”
Hernandez was non-committal when he was asked if he needed to talk with national team coach Gerardo Martino to resolve any potential problems.
“My whole career, what I learned from my grandfather and my father,” Hernandez said, “every time I was on the national team it was like you need to win your call-ups and try to do your best.”