Sunday’s upcoming MLS playoff featuring the host Seattle Sounders and L.A. Galaxy has all kinds of star power, beginning with the two famous names coaching the teams.
Action commences Sunday at 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time at the Xbox Pitch of Seattle’s Qwest Field, but that is just the first leg of a two-match series modeled along the lines of CONCACAF competition. The home-and-home series adds drama. Part 2 of the unfolding scenario occurs Sunday, November 7, at 6 p.m. PDT at Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
The rules for advancing to the next round are these: The team that has the edge in aggregate goal scoring after the two matches will advance. In the event that the teams are tied, a 30-minute overtime period will occur. Should they be deadlocked at that point, the issue will be resolved via penalty kicks.
Sigi Schmid contended that his Seattle Sounders were much better than their 4-8-3 first half showing indicated. He proved his point as the rags-to-riches Sounders became the hottest team in the league, posting a dynamic 10-2-3 second-half record and winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open competition for the second year in a row. Their seasonal mark of 14-10-6 was good for 48 points.
Galaxy mentor Bruce Arena guided his squad to an impressive season that resulted in winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield, given to the team with the best record. Whereas the Sounders shone in the second half of the campaign, Arena’s team got off to a blistering 10-0-2 start and secured the best record in MLS during the first half of the season. The team finished with 59 points and an 18-7-5 seasonal mark.
Arena’s legendary status began with stellar achievements in the East, including championships at Virginia University and his status as U.S. National Team coach. He also coached the New York Red Bulls. Arena finally decided to “Go West” and continued his success pattern with the L.A. Galaxy.
As for Sigi Schmid, he began in the West by starting as coach of the university where he played, UCLA, at the age of 27. He enjoyed a stint with the Galaxy and had a brilliant run in the Midwest with the Columbus Crew. From there it was back West to his current position with the Sounders, where he helped inaugurate the franchise last season.
Schmid, in acknowledging Arena’s great achievements, noted this week that it will be fun facing a legend. Arena assuredly feels the same way about facing Schmid. Great coaches have competitive fire, and facing a brilliant opponent stokes the flames of competition.
Speaking of fire, there will be plenty of firepower on the field for both sides, including some of the most glittery star names in MLS soccer. The biggest name in the game internationally, David Beckham, is back in action with the Los Angeles team after being sidelined by injury.
The Galaxy enjoyed its first-half surge when Beckham was out of action and was seen at courtside of Los Angeles Lakers games. World Cup players Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle dominated MLS play in the assist and scoring categories, respectively. This week Sigi Schmid called Donovan the best player in U.S. soccer.
For the Sounders, the solid play of Switzerland’s World Cup performer and Dutch scoring sensation Blaise Nkufo after his second-half acquisition was a catalyst in the team’s surge. Statistics tell the story: In games Nkufo started at forward, the Sounders are 9-1-1.
In terms of youthful star power for the future, the Sounders are stocked with two of the best. A recent MLS poll placed forward Fredy Montero and midfielder Steve Zakuani among the top five players in the league in the under-25 category. Each player specializes in speed, but their respective games have developed so that, in addition to possessing great scoring prowess, their repertoire has been enhanced by achievements in the assist category as well.
The teams have met three times this season. The first game in Seattle produced the most overwhelming loss in Sounders franchise history. After grabbing a 1-0 halftime edge, Donovan and Buddle heated up for a quick second-half flurry. When the smoke cleared, the Galaxy had won by a 4-0 score.
An embarrassed Sounders management expressed an apology to fans for what they contended was an uncharacteristically poor performance. They issued refunds to season ticket–holders applicable toward the purchase of seasonal renewals.
The next match at Home Depot Center resulted in a 3-1 Galaxy win. Despite the loss, the Sounders saw the match as a turning point in their season. Schmid announced that changes would be made at midfield, where the defense needed “tightening up,” and the Seattle surge then moved into gear.
Less than a week after the 3-1 Galaxy win, the teams squared off in U.S. Open Cup action at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders scored a 2-0 win. As Schmid has pointed out, however, that game featured a lot of reserve players on both sides as the coaches rested regulars out of deference to the long MLS schedule.
So each team feels it has something to prove in the two-match extension of the exciting Western Conference rivalry pitting Southern California against the Pacific Northwest. Each side is equally determined as well to move on in 2010 MLS playoff competition.