LA Galaxy vs. Seattle: Key Issues and Decisions That Will Shape MLS Game
The Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy will face each other for the third time in quick succession Sunday in the first leg of the Western Conference Final.
Sigi Schmid's Sounders earned a road draw and a win at home to clinch the Supporters' Shield at the end of the regular season. But the Galaxy did dominate Seattle in the Pacific Northwest back in July.
Everywhere you look on the pitch Sunday at StubHub Center, you will see one of the best players in Major League Soccer at their position. The spotlight will focus on Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins to begin with. But as we saw with Marco Pappa in the regular season, anyone can steal the headlines.
Here's a look at the key issues and managerial decisions that will decide the outcome of the first leg.
Osvaldo Alonso's Health
When Osvaldo Alonso went down on the CenturyLink Field pitch early in the second half of the second leg against FC Dallas, concern about the influential midfielder was at an all-time high.
Luckily for Alonso, the international break came at the right time so he could regain fitness in time for the first leg of the Western Conference final.
All Seattle manager Sigi Schmid would say about Alonso's recovery is "He's coming along as we expected," per MLSSoccer.com.
If Alonso's hamstring is not fully healed by Sunday, Seattle will have to shift around its lineup a bit to deal with the Galaxy.
One option would be to start Micheal Azira next to Gonzalo Pineda in the middle of the park. But Brad Evans or Andy Rose could fill in for Alonso as well.
If the 29-year-old midfield bulldog is unable to go, Pineda will be relied on to bring more intensity to the central-midfield battle against Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho.
Who Lines Up in Front of DeAndre Yedlin
Most of us are aware of the talents Seattle right-back DeAndre Yedlin brings to the pitch. But for the Sounders to leave StubHub Center with a win, the player lined up in front of him will have to link up well with the future Tottenham player.
In the penultimate match of the regular season, Evans was aligned in front of Yedlin to provide help against Landon Donovan. If you disregard the communication error made by the duo in the buildup to the first Galaxy goal in the 2-2 draw, they played well on the right wing.
The same pairing was employed six days later to stop the dangerous Donovan from replicating his wonderful performance from July 28 in Seattle.
Evans provides Yedlin with defensive cover when the young full-back moves forward. And based on the two games against the Galaxy to close the regular season, they have a good understanding of each other's positioning.
Shutting down Donovan should be the top objective for the Sounders, which is why the pairing of Evans and Yedlin makes the most sense, at least to start.
Where A.J. DeLaGarza Lines Up in the Galaxy Back 4
While we're on the topic of dominant play on the right side of the pitch, LA's A.J. DeLaGarza turned in a stellar performance in the second leg against Real Salt Lake at right-back.
In the 5-0 win at home in the Western Conference semifinal, DeLaGarza shifted out to right to quiet the electric Joao Plata.
He did a little bit more than that, as he was a valuable asset moving forward as well. The 27-year-old helped open the scoring with an assist on Donovan's 10th-minute goal.
DeLaGarza was rarely challenged in his own half, which allowed him to scamper forward and become a vital part of the Galaxy's domination in the attacking third.
Since that move turned out to be a stroke of genius by LA manager Bruce Arena, we could see DeLaGarza back on the right with Leonardo filling in at center-back next to Omar Gonzalez.
If he does set up on the right flank, DeLaGarza will be tasked with shutting down either Lamar Neagle or Pappa. If he holds Seattle's left winger to a minimal threat in attack, the Galaxy could carry a comfortable lead into the second leg.
What Role Marco Pappa Plays in the Match
Over the last month, we have seen Schmid use Pappa in a variety of roles against the Galaxy and FC Dallas.
In the home-and-home series to end the regular season against LA, Pappa came off the bench and changed the pace of both matches. After his entrance in both games, the Seattle attack seemed unstoppable, especially in the game at StubHub Center.
Pappa was handed a start in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal against FC Dallas. But instead of helping his team out early in the match, he conceded a penalty. He did make up for it with a goal in the second half, but he did prove he can be a defensive liability.
The Guatemalan winger was handed a start in the second leg, but he lacked the punch he had off the bench against LA.
Due to Pappa's defensive weaknesses, Schmid would be smart to start Evans and Neagle on the wings. Just like the last two games against LA, halfway through the second half would be a great time to insert Pappa.
Which Star Duo Creates the Most Chances?
Two Most Valuable Player finalists and two United States men's national team legends will line up in attack for both teams Sunday.
Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are coming off a terrific display against Real Salt Lake in which each player contributed to four goals. Donovan earned a hat-trick and one assist, while Keane scored once and played the role of provider on three occasions.
In the home-and-home regular-season series, Dempsey and Martins were more effective with one goal and four shots on target.
Although the Seattle pair have the better recent track record in the head-to-head battle, the LA duo are coming off one of their best performances of the season.
It is hard to predict which attacking pair will perform better Sunday night, but if the careers of all four players are any indication, we could be in for a stellar attacking display at StubHub Center.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.