Get pumped, my friends, for the day is finally here. It's game 1 of the epic season ending series between the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC to decide the Supporters' Shield. To the victors, jubilation. The losers will probably claim it's a meaningless trophy since schedules are unbalanced. Never the less, this is a big deal.
The Galaxy are playing some of the best soccer in league history, and their numbers suggest they are one of the greatest teams to ever grace the league. Their goal differential stands at +34. That's not just good, it's elite. Having dropped 4 points on missed penalty kicks, and another 4 to Leonardo syndrome, the Galaxy find themselves level with a team they ultimately should be well ahead of.
Let me repeat this for emphasis, this series is huge!
Earlier this week, I promised an in-depth tactical preview in advance of today's game. My plans changed slightly when Off the Ball Movement did this fantastic tactical preview which covered most of the points I feel are worth highlighting in this matchup. So instead I'm going to focus on a few key points, and I urge you all to read the Off the Ball movement article for a more in depth breakdown.
In Smothering the Hydra, I demonstrated how LA was able to exploit the poor marking of Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle; overwhelming Seattle's defense with numbers. I don't see that happening this time. Sigi is too smart to let that happen again and will more than likely play Brad Evans over Marco Pappa at RM. Unlike Pappa, who loves to go forward and rarely defends, Evans will sit deeper and put in work on both sides of the ball. With Evans slotted at right mid the Galaxy will not have the numbers advantage I highlighted in smothering the hydra, and won't have as many gaping channels to exploit.
Instead, get used to the following 7 v 7 match-up
With less space to work in, the Galaxy will have to move the ball faster to find the gaps. Here is where I see the Galaxy finding success.
Robbie Keane loves to drift into the space between the defenders and the defensive mids. He usually pulls to the left when doing so. Landon Donovan loves to cut inside. The Galaxy will be able to force Evans, Marshall, and Alonso to have to constantly shift marks with fast combination play. Marshall will have to decide whether to follow or hand it off to Evans or Alonso when Keane drops back. If Alonso is being pressed by Sarvas, and Donovan is cutting inside at the same time, the chances that someone will bungle their mark is high.
The same dynamic is a risk to LA's defense. With Neagle cutting in, and Martins and Dempsey constantly checking back, LA will need to switch marks at the same kind of speed. LA has the stronger central defender partnership, assuming AJ starts at centerback. If it's Leonardo then all bets are off.
I don't think this is going to be the shoot out that so many are predicting. I think LA's possession game is too strong to see a team come into the Stub Hub and put up crooked numbers.The Galaxy are second in the league in possession, third in the league in the final third possession, and first in the league in shots. They only give up 10.4 shots a game.
If Seattle is going to find success in this game it will be on the counter. It will almost certainly not be to the tune of 3 or 4 goals without statistically anomalous finishing. This dynamic may even out when the Galaxy go to Seattle, but for the home leg the Galaxy will control the pace of the game making it difficult for Seattle to score lots of goals.
As cliché as it sounds, this game will probably come down to whether or not the Galaxy can capitalize on their opportunities.