SEATTLE — There’s no way around it. The LA Galaxy team the Seattle Sounders are about to face is significantly different than the one they beat 2-0 three months ago.
That squad didn’t have goalkeeper Josh Saunders, defender Omar Gonzalez or Designated Players Robbie Keane and David Beckham, who all missed the game for a littany of reasons that left the Sounders with the decided upper hand back on May 2.
But at least partially buoyed by the return to health and form of those players, the Galaxy head into this Sunday’s game (9 pm ET, ESPN2, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com) riding a five-game unbeaten streak and suddenly looking a lot like the team many expected to compete for a second straight MLS Cup.
The Sounders are clearly aware.
“I think you see a different dynamic, especially with the way those guys are playing right now,” Sounders midfielder Brad Evans said Friday. “It’s going to be a team on the rise, that’s playing well, almost the same form that we’re in right now. They hit a lull for a little bit but they’ve picked it up and found out that it’s still going to take a lot of hard work to earn points in the league.
“I think we find ourselves in the same position,” he added. “It’s going to be a good test.”
The Sounders, though, are a bit different, too. Although the win over the Galaxy may have represented the high point to their team-record 7-1-1 start to the season, they went into a slump relatively soon after, resulting in a nearly suffocating nine-game winless streak.
They have since emerged and are now riding a five-game unbeaten streak of their own (2-0-3), and a big part of that has been a team-wide return to health.
The biggest piece — both literally and figuratively — might be having Michael Gspurning (above) back in goal. The 6-foot-5 goalkeeper helped lead the Sounders to just their second win in their past 12 matches last week, making his first appearance since being forced to leave at halftime of that May 2 game against the Galaxy.
“That’s gone,” Gspurning told MLSsoccer.com. “I don’t think about the injury happening against the Galaxy or that it happened on my birthday. I’m a guy that is looking to the future. I’m glad that I’m back and there’s a tough week in front of us. We just have focus forward.”
Having Gspurning back now couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sounders. In addition to Sunday’s game against the Galaxy, the Sounders also have the US Open Cup final on Wednesday and a game at the Supporters’ Shield-leading San Jose Earthquakes three days later.
Of course, the Sounders are doing everything in their power not to look at it that way.
“You just focus on Sunday and then you approach Wednesday when Wednesday comes,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “That’s the way you balance it off. One game at a time.”
In this case, that shouldn’t be too hard. The Sounders are expecting a crowd of more than 60,000, the game is on national television and there could be as many as six Designated Players on the field. Seattle's newest DP acquisition, German midfielder Christian Tiffert, has received his Visa is eligible to play, and will likely appear on the gameday roster for the Sounders.
“It’s a great challenge for us,” Gspurning said. “We beat them once here and we want to show on Sunday that we can beat them a second time. That’s the big target.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.