On a team full of stars, none have shown brighter over the last four months than the LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane.
The Irish international forward has scored 15 goals and registered seven assists over his last 22 MLS games, dating back to his return from international duty with the Republic of Ireland at the European Championships.
His performances, especially his two goals to send the Galaxy to the Western Conference championship, has clearly gotten the Seattle Sounders’ attention as they prepare for Sunday’s first leg (9 pm ET - ESPN, TSN2 and RDS2 with live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“Robbie Keane, as much as anybody, has really put that team on his back,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told reporters following training on Saturday evening. “He’s scoring goals, he’s completing passes, he’s getting a lot of touches. Right now he’s definitely a trigger man for them.”
WATCH: Sounders focused on Keane
What makes Keane especially tough to mark is that he’s rarely in one place (see Opta Chalkboard for his last match vs. San Jose).
“He’s such an active player,” Sounders defender Jeff Parke said. “He likes to drop into the midfield and make it difficult for our midfielders to come back and for us to step up on, so it’s a little in between. Someone’s going to have to step up or drop off. It’s something we’ll work out.”
The Sounders have so far seen mixed success in trying to stop Keane. The first time they met on Aug. 5, Keane was largely frustrated while being held in check in a 4-0 Sounders win. When the two teams met in the final game of the regular season, Keane was a crossbar away from scoring a goal but he had the game-winning assist in a 1-0 Galaxy victory.
The goal the Sounders allowed in that game was just one of two they’ve given up over their past seven MLS contests, a stretch in which they’ve posted five shutouts.
“There’s no secret about defending: It’s about 30 percent organization and 70 percent perspiration,” Schmid said. “It’s a lot of work. You got to get back, you have to get into the holes, you have to run at people and support our goalkeeper and make big stops. They’re a difficult team to keep off the board, as was Salt Lake, so it’s going to take a lot of concentration.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.