CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy are treating Sunday evening's season-ender at the Seattle Sounders (9 pm ET, ESPN) like a playoff game, because that's what it is for Western Conference powers looking to avoid a wild-card assignment when MLS's postseason begins next week.
A winner would finish finish third and avoid the midweek match, and the Galaxy (15-11-7) would do so with a draw as long as Colorado fail to win at Vancouver in a game that kicks off an hour earlier than the Galaxy-Sounders showdown.
That's the priority for LA, but they know it's no death sentence if they have to start with a wild-card match. They did so last year en route to a second straight MLS Cup title.
“We know what we have to do – it's very clear,” Landon Donovan said this week. “We'd love to avoid the play-in game, but we also have the experience from last year of being able to win the championship if we have to go that route. So we'll try to win the game in Seattle, and we'll go from there.”
The game could be a precursor to a wild-card rematch at the StubHub Center. If Sunday's game is a tie and the Rapids, who clinched a playoff berth Saturday, beat Vancouver, LA would be home against Seattle next week. If Seattle win, it would be a Galaxy-Colorado Knockout Round game – in suburban Denver if the Rapids win.
“For sure, rest is important, so a midweek game we really do want to avoid,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “We also know that we won a championship last year playing a midweek game [to start the playoffs]. If we play it, we'll be ready for it. If we have a wishlist, sure, we'd love to be able to come out of Seattle and give ourselves a full week of recovery and training and [preparation] for the [conference semifinal opener] on the weekend.”
Donovan could use the extra time to aid a left ankle injury that he says needs about six weeks' rest to heal. It also would be worthwhile for Todd Dunivant, who missed the tie last weekend with San Jose and is unlikely to appear in Seattle after spraining his right medial collateral ligament in the win over Montreal a week.
LA also will be without Juninho, who is serving a yellow-card accumulation suspension.
The Sounders (15-12-6) have lost four in a row while being outscored, 12-2, and haven't won since the Galaxy ended their five-game winning streak with a 1-1 draw Sept. 21 at StubHub.
“They've been pretty streaky over their few years in the league ... but they're still a very good team,” Donovan said. “They're a very talented team. They're going to have a very good crowd [estimated at about 66,000] there. They're going to look to right the ship before the playoffs start, so there's a lot riding on this.”
And for the Galaxy.
“It's a must-win to avoid the play-in game, but we just want to put together a good performance,” Donovan said. “I don't think we're too concerned over what happens. We obviously want to do well, we want to play well, but at the end of the day, if we have to play in a play-in game, then we do. If not, that would be ideal.”