It's familiar territory for LA Galaxy fans, a tete-a-tete with the Seattle Sounders in the playoffs. 3-1 on aggregate in 2010, after a year when the LA Galaxy defeated the Sounders so bad at home (4-0) that fans were offered refunds.
Time has passed, and now the Galaxy face the Sounders in a place familiar to them and unfamiliar to Seattle. LA is now in it's fourth straight Western Conference final, so far going 2 for 3. Seattle, on the other hand, is in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in Franchise history.
So what's different about this year's Sounders? How are Seattle feeling after that series with Real Salt Lake? Let's find out; three questions with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart.
LAGConf. The narrative has been the Seattle were outplayed in the series against RSL, but a result is a result. What about the series with RSL has you concerned?
The concern would still be about the offense. In the first match the Sounders were great at getting the ball into dangerous areas, but couldn't finish. In the second leg they struggled to create as much danger. They have to realize that the attack was better in leg one and have to act like it. Leg two there were a few moments of magic, but only Mario Martinez' went into the net. If Seattle gets into the mindset that leg two was good enough it could be a long night in Carson.
Saunders is decent, but no Rimando. Seattle can't treat them as the same.
LAGConf. What positives are you taking away from that series?
The Sounders' defense doesn't get much respect but it deserves it. There aren't stars along the backline, but with Osvaldo Alonso camped in front of them and Michael Gspurning behind they prevent goals as well as any. Gspurning particularly showed what he's capable of doing against Salt Lake. He was nearly as good as Rimando in Seattle and his performance in Sandy was the best of any player on the pitch. The Sounders may be a bit more gaff prone than other top defenses (the soft on set-pieces mantra), but as a team they are strong without looking it.
Seven goals given up in seven playoff matches isn't great, but the five shutouts in regulation are.
LAGConf. Is there someone who didn't contribute in the series with RSL, that you expect to have a bigger contribution against the Galaxy?
I'm going to have to pick two. Fredy Montero got an assist, but that's not really up to standards he deserves. Then there's Eddie Johnson who in the one match he did play looked a bit tenative. Neither have strong Playoff histories. If Seattle Sounders FC is going make a run at greatness they will need their forwards to produce like the high level players they are. Their 33 goals in all competitions will mean little if in the Playoffs they don't do what forwards are paid to do.
This isn't 2011. There isn't enough finishing from the Sounders midfield for them to beat LA on aggregate without Fredy or Eddie doing anything.
SatH. People like to think of LA as the attacking DPs and the former Rookies of the Year on defense. This seems to overlook some key contributors to the late season push. Who deserves more eyeballs/words/etc?
Mike Magee is the poplar choice right now for the under appreciated player. The Galaxy have stacked up in the midfield position since MLS Cup, adding Marcelo Sarvas and Christian Wilhelmsson. The expected net result of this was Mike Magee being thrust to the wall, but that hasn't been the case. With Wilhelmsson dealing with an injury, Magee was called upon for regular minutes down the final stretch. When he came on and scored the match winner in the season finale against Seattle, I laughed in the pressbox (out loud) because it was just too perfect. Here was Magee, once again, scoring a goal when none of the DPs could.
Getting the series winner against San Jose was another one of those moments. He doesn't play the game with flair, but he plays it with attention to detail. He knows where to be, and has a nose for goal when the pressure is on. He's the kind of role guy teams overlook, but that is absolutely necessary to team chemistry.
SatH. When Wilhelmson is healthy what does he add to the squad?
Against San Jose, Landon Donovan and Mike Magee ran the wings, but only Donovan really had the speed to open up a back line wide, and then to come across and open up space. Wilhelmsson, when he's healthy, adds that speed on the opposite wing, which can really start to open up a defense. He's also a guy like Donovan and Keane that can catch up to a ball played too long with their speed, creating chances other players wouldn't have been able to.
In a weird way, it's because Wilhelmsson has been hurt that I think the Galaxy have worked Edson Buddle back into the mix. With Wilhelmsson, the Galaxy have three players who can run around at the top of the offense. Bruce Arena could have keep Donovan up top while Wilhelmsson was injured, but there's a risk of the top and the midfield playing with a separation between them. Buddle has been completely ineffective, but Donovan in the midfield gives the Galaxy a player who can run between the levels. When Chippen is fully healthy, he can be that guy for LA.
SatH. How is Tommy Meyer filling in for DeLaGarza? How much longer will he need to?
Tommy Meyer is easily the most improved rookie, stepping up huge in the void A.J. DeLaGarza left. He will still make the occasional mistake, but his ability to be in the right spot has improved greatly. The fact that neither of San Jose's starting forwards scored in the entire series against LA should be a testament to just how far Tommy Meyer has come.