Sunday night's (6 PM start, ignore your ticket) game between the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy is a contest for 3rd at this point. Either side could go on a run and avoid the Play-in Round. Watching the two teams with the strongest records since the Sounders joined MLS will be about 60,000 - a league match, no gimmicks. Just people wanting to see two usually strong MLS sides on a sunny Sunday evening. Sure, ESPN2 has the game, but live and local is better.
The projected lineups provided by Josie of LAGConfidential is a bit of a sign of what this game means to Bruce Arena's side. The Galaxy are in the playoff hunt despite a poor start and with David Beckham missing an upcoming game for the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony her thought is that LA needs these points now.
SaH: How much of the recent run is playing bad teams and how much is improved defense by LA?
LAGC: Over the last two months the Galaxy have beaten three playoff teams: the Fire, the Whitecaps, and slumping Real Salt Lake. There were four victories over teams that aren't currently in playoff spots. So six of one, half a dozen of the other. The biggest change between 2012 Galaxy 1.0 and 2012 Galaxy 2.0 is goal production. The designated players have been scoring goals and assisting goals at a quite efficient clip, and that's against the Earthquakes and Salt Lake as well as the Portland Timbers. The defense continues to be the Achilles Heel, but with Omar Gonzalez folding back into the starting lineup the defense has looked a lot better. He improves everyone around him; David Junior Lopes was a fantasy standout last week. Lopes!
SaH: What happened to Edson Buddle?
LAGC: Edson Buddle had knee surgery on June 5th, to repair damage done to his meniscus. He was expected to be out 3-6 weeks and we passed that some time ago. He's still listed as out on the injury report, which makes me feel like there have been complications post surgery. WebMD assures me patients who have menisectomy surgery, where the injured part of the meniscus is removed, can resume normal activity in 2 to 4 weeks. So what's happening with Edson Buddle?
It's hard to speculate on someone's personal situation. Every body heals differently, and I haven't spoken to any of the Galaxy trainers, but it's been the narrative since Buddle returned that he was out of shape. Taking time off for surgery isn't going to help someone get in shape, so while his knee may have healed, there's still the process of getting him in a playing shape where he won't reinjure that knee. It may be apples and oranges, but Omar Gonzalez pushed himself to come back way ahead of schedule, and then you have players who just don't seem to be making that same progress.
All I know is his absence has allowed the Galaxy to showcase and subsequently sell Chad Barrett's weighty contract, while simultaneously allowing teen sensation Jose Villarreal to make his mark on the club. Robbie Keane has looked better with a partner who will make overlapping runs, not colliding runs. The team has improved in his absence.
SaH: What player's performance has positively surprised you the most this year?
LAGC: Hector Jimenez has stepped up in a big way this year. He still has off matches, where you're not sure his head is in it, but he has played his way into a starting role. He's got a great cross ability from the wings, which combined with Beckham's crosses from the back give the Galaxy a dynamic aerial attack. Playing to stop the cross has left some space in the middle on the ground, which Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have done a great job of exploiting. He's also a Golden Bear, so that gives him a special place in my heart.
Projected lineup: Saunders; DeLaGarza, Gonzalez, Lopes, Franklin; Juninho, Beckham, Sarvas, Jimenez; Donovan, Keane
Todd Dunivant is still listed as questionable, but I don't think they bring him back in a turf match.
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LAGC: With the transfer window closing, how would you grade the changes made to the Sounder's roster?
SaH: To me the key was getting Mario Martinez the Honduran attacking midfielder. Without that move the difference would be Christian Tiffert + Alex Caskey v Alvaro Fernandez + Brad Evans. That would have been an adjustment in style without a large change in quality. By grabbing Martinez, still to be formally announced, they still have a ball control specialist wide and left and add Tiffert's service from deeper central positions. In the end, this is a strong improvement and continues to push the Sounders forward.
LAGC: Despite the struggles, Seattle remains in playoff contention. What do you see as this team's floor? How about their ceiling?
SaH: They've already reached the floor when they went winless over 9 games. Of course, in that same period they never lost two in a row and beat the San Jose Earthquakes in Open Cup play. The biggest problem during that stretch was defense, and yet on the season the team is still a top three defensive team in MLS. That's because of the strong start when the team went 7-1-1 and only gave up three goals. But that's not their ceiling. The ceiling on this squad is one that can make a run in the CCL and the MLS Cup Playoffs. Being a strong regular season team isn't enough, they've done that. Once falling a missed PK short of the Supporters' Shield and last year coming in second. Since that trophy is out of reach the peak will be if Seattle can do well in the Playoffs.
LAGC: Why do you think teams/players/sportswriters continue to bring up the turf at the C-link? It reminds me of how domes (which Seattle also had) used to be viewed in the NFL/MLB.
SaH: I find it hilarious. To paraphrase Zach Scott, if other teams are scared of playing here it just means it's easier for the Sounders to win. When national pundits claim that it is artificial surfaces that is holding American soccer back they are proving themselves idiots. It doesn't hold back Mexico, Costa Rica or Russia (all which have teams playing on artificial surfaces). When players say that they are more likely to get injured I laugh for different reasons. First because it shows an emotional response devoid of adjustments in the technology and two because most of them train on artificial fields or dirt at various points in their lives. If the artificial was going to cause so many more injuries why do about half of EPL teams have their players spend more time on that surface than grass?
Would I like grass at CenturyLink? Yes. I'd also like a unicorn and a talking monkey. For now I'll just settle for my great dog and the highest quality surface that is usable under the current configuration and usage pattern of the CLink.
This fall the CLink will host two American football teams and the Sounders. If they had grass this year it would be the worst surface used in CONCACAF.
Starting lineup prediction: Gspurning; Gonzalez, Ianni, Parke, Johansson; Alonso; Caskey, Evans, Rosales; Montero, Johnson
Tiffert could be available. It's all about the work visa. If he's here the team will be more 4231 with him in for Evans rather than the hybridy thing they do now.
Yes, I think that Montero can start 3 matches in a week. The biggest questions are at center mid and left mid.