CARSON, Calif. – Josh Saunders knows what to expect from the Seattle Sounders, and from their rabid fans. And he knows how the LA Galaxy must answer.
The Galaxy goalkeeper expects an onslaught from the Sounders, who must make history and overcome a 3-0 deficit in Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference Championship in Seattle (9 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) to keep LA out of the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final.
The Sounders are in the same position as they were halfway through last year's conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake, when they dropped the opener, 3-0, then scored twice at home to turn the rout into a real battle.
“If you saw them play Salt Lake last year, you expect a raucous game,” Saunders said as the Galaxy started preparations for the second leg. “They're going to come out and they're going to shoot a lot, cross the ball a lot and get the ball in front of goal. [For us] it's just defend the goal, go forward and keep the ball, and try to attack them as well.”
Taking a conservative approach, given the advantage, isn't the way to proceed, he says.
WATCH: Saunders' error in SJ series
“You have to approach the game the same way you do any game ...,” Saunders said. “If you take that [conservative] approach and go in with that mentality, you're going to keep it through the whole game, and you don't want to do that. You want to go out and try to win the game.”
The defending MLS Cup champions appeared to be in tough straits after Saunders failed to keep out Víctor Bernárdez's stoppage-time free kick in San Jose's 1-0 victory in the conference semifinal opener – he took the blame after the ball went off his hands and under him into the net – but Saunders' performances in the one-sided playoff victories over the Earthquakes and Seattle that followed were a big reason why LA is just 90 minutes from a record eighth MLS Cup title-game appearance and their third in four years.
The attack, behind Robbie Keane, has been astounding, and Omar Gonzalez is playing his best soccer since returning four months ago from an ACL tear. They've overshadowed their 'keeper, perhaps, but the Galaxy know what Saunders has meant to their success.
“He's been important,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “He came back from a little bit of a mishap in the first San Jose game and played big in the last two games. That speaks volumes about his approach and the kind of confidence he has. He's been a real positive influence on the group.”
Landon Donovan says Saunders has been “terrific,” and David Beckham praised his “character to come out and perform like he did” after “coming off a game where he got a little stick.”
“He's responded as well as you could possibly have hoped for,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “He's been so good, I think, especially coming out on crosses, being big, being a big presence in there. When he does that, the offensive guys [on the opposition] think twice about going up for headers and know that if a cross comes in, a little floater, they're not even going to go for it. He's made a difference that way, and it helps us out tremendously.”