The math is simple. The objective is not.
If the Seattle Sounders are to win the Western Conference Championship on Sunday (9 pm ET, ESPN; TSN2/RDS2 in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) they’ll need to beat the LA Galaxy by at least three goals just to force overtime.
That’s made even more complicated because attempting to push numbers forward plays right into the Galaxy’s strengths.
“When you look at their team, they kind of shape their team around the counterattack,” Sounders midfielder Brad Evans said during a Thursday conference call with reporters. “When they win the ball, Sean Franklin pushes forward as fast as he can, [Christian] Wilhelmsson tucks in a little bit and [David] Beckham gets the ball almost in a right back position right behind the halfway line.
“You have to pick your poison there. Do you stay with the runner that had two assists or stay with the man who started the whole play and can pretty much pick out any player he wants on the field.”
Based on the results in the first leg, the Sounders chose poorly as each of the Galaxy’s final two goals came in transition.
The first came directly following a decent scoring chance for the Sounders, as the Galaxy picked up an errant pass, moved the ball through the midfield and then slipped it to Franklin as he snuck in behind the defense. Franklin set up Mike Magee for a wide open volley at the back post.
The second goal came when Evans won a header at midfield, but the ball fell to the feet of Marcelo Sarvas. He immediately spotted Landon Donovan streaking up the field, and hit him with a through ball past a couple Sounders defenders. Although Donovan’s initial shot was blocked, the rebound left the Sounders scrambling and resulted in Robbie Keane’s second goal of the game.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, slowing the game down — rather than speeding it up — may help Seattle, as it keeps the Galaxy from getting out on the break.
“When we do forward, when we create these chances, we have to get something out of them,” Evans said. “Whether it’s a corner kick or a stoppage in play, or hopefully, it’s a goal.
“That’s going to be the most important thing, if we can get one early and put them on the back foot. They’re not a team that is going to just play defensively and sit in a shell. That’s not the mentality that their players have. I think we’re going to find ourselves getting chances, but we have to bide our time. We can’t just throw guys forward in the first 10 minutes because they are going to catch us. It’s a little bit of a game of cat and mouse.”