It seems inevitable, at this point. With Donovan Ricketts out with a broken arm, and Josh Saunders serving a red-card suspension, surely the Seattle Sounders are the easy favorites to take three points from the LA Galaxy for the first time in nearly two years. The Sounders will play at the Home Depot Center this coming Independence Day, enjoying a three game winning streak, and a recent upswing in offensive production that's so hot it burns. But, going against a team that's undeniably had their number these past few years, can the Sounders really pull it off? Here is why the answer is a resounding no.
Seattle's back line is not what it used to be. While they've allowed fewer total goals in this year's campaign than last season, they've also had fewer clean sheets. Even many of their winning efforts have seen goals from the opposition.
Enter the Galaxy, with the greatest goal difference in the league, and only fifteen goals allowed. And while much of that can be attributed to the injured Donovan Ricketts, it means that one goal could easily end up being all it takes to put the Sounders to bed.
But don't forget about the Galaxy's historic 4-0 defeat of the Sounders in Seattle last season, constituting the greatest loss in the Sounders' MLS history and prompting the club to refund more than 30,000 season ticket holders for the match. The Galaxy have never exactly been content with just one goal against Seattle.
In seven MLS matches against the Galaxy (including playoff matches), the Sounders have only won once. In 2009. Even more disturbing: the fact that they have only scored five goals in all of those matches...and three of them were by injured winger Steve Zakuani.
While the Sounders have increased their offensive production as of late, scoring an impressive eight goals in the past three MLS matches, these figures do not bode well for the boys from Seattle. They were also hot at the end of the last season, but were immediately neutralized by the Galaxy defense in the two playoff games they played, scoring only one goal in 180 minutes. Again, that goal was scored by Zakuani.
Even the woes that Galaxy have experienced this week in the goalkeeper position may not make a difference. Expect any third-string keeper, no matter how terrible, to perform better than Magee, no matter how brilliant he was in his goalkeeping debut against San Jose. And in any case, Galaxy thoroughly demonstrated a proficiency in keeping the ball far away from goal when they know their keeper situation is less than secure.
Former LA head coach Sigi Schmidt has been a very positive force for the Sounders since 2009, putting them within two points of the Supporters' Shield during his first year at the helm, and leading them to the playoffs in their first two seasons. But, as of late, many fans in Seattle have begun to question his judgment, particularly regarding lineups and substitutions.
While Sigi seems to have finally found a starting lineup that consistently works, fans are still left wondering almost every game "why, oh why, did he sub in Jaqua again?" Or Levesque; or Fucito. Especially when many believe he has much better options on the bench and on the reserve squad.
Sigi made such a decision in the recent MLS match against New York, subbing Levesque into the game, who went on to score two goals to win it for the Sounders. But that was New York, who have been struggling on the defensive side of the ball, unlike LA. And such a strong performance is hardly indicative of Levesque's usual ability up front.
When a decision like this is made at the Home Depot Center, expect offensive opportunities from the Sounders to disappear immediately and entirely.
The Seattle Sounders are not exactly a team that's shorthanded when it comes to talent. That's never been their problem, especially not this season. Instead, their problem has been a lack of cohesion and ability to work well together within that talented group. Which is why the Sounders have come to rely very heavily on momentum.
You can see it happening sometimes on the field: a lack of communication resulting in prolonged periods of misplaced passes, easy interceptions, and obvious frustration displayed by every player in rave green. But then, suddenly they'll string a few passes together, and it becomes impossible to knock them off the ball.
Impossible for most clubs, anyway. But that will not be the case for the Galaxy, whose own skill is more linked with the cohesion the Sounders lack. The Galaxy know that any momentum gained by Seattle will have to be stopped immediately, and they have the skill on the pitch to do it.
Expect more lost battles at midfield for Seattle than battles won, and the Galaxy defense to be red hot in keeping the ball out of the box and the goal out of danger.
Watch out MLS, Landon Donovan is back. And he's not happy.
A major motivating factor for LA on monday will be the return of Landon Donovan from the USMNT. Before he left, Donovan led the league in goals scored. It took Charlie Davies and Thierry Henry the entire time Donovan was gone to catch up to his eight goals.
But Landon Donovan does so much more than score goals. His speed on the ball and remarkable ability to spark highlight-quality plays for the Galaxy have always been something the Sounders have struggled to defend. And his leadership on the pitch shows through in every game.
The Sounders, meanwhile, have not finished with a clean sheet in three matches. Expect Donovan to be somehow involved in making it four.