The LA Galaxy are a very familiar opponent. You know them. You hate them. You just won a trophy over them. On Sunday at 2pm the next chapter in the LA-Seattle rivalry starts, and it is different than the last one. Robbie Keane is back. Omar Gonzalez is back. Osvaldo Alonso's status for Seattle Sounders FC is completely unknowable.
But there are some things that are known. LA dominated Salt Lake in ways that were frankly, impressive. Seattle's defense has more than three matches without giving up a run-of-play goal.
The two-week break may have taken its toll on Josie. The head of LAGConfidential just wants the games to happen. But hidden in the snark are some key truths that could come forth in Leg One. It's truth that should both scare you and excite you. For this is the time when legends become reality.
SaH: How much is recent form helping the Galaxy confidence?
LAGC: I've been hard at work in my laboratory working on a way to measure confidence, and last night my elves had a major breakthrough. The Confitron will not only measure a team's con level, but it also can be yours for just three easy payments of $19.99! The Confitron currently has the LA Galaxy at 21 cons, and gives a pre-recent-form reading of 15 cons. Thus the answer to your question is that LA's recent form has helped them to the tune of 6 cons.
So how has this form led to a con increase? Well the speed which the LA Galaxy displayed on the right side against Real Salt Lake, exploiting RSL's tendency to play narrow, certainly lends them the confidence to believe they can be a wide playing team. Jaime Penedo having a shutout for the entire series certainly lends him the confidence to believe he is one of MLS' top goalkeepers.
If those two areas of the club can just believe in themselves, and with a little magic, this is a team that can con their way to a fifth MLS Cup.
SaH: Playing both games with Keane and Omar is a pretty significant shift from the Shield clinching series. How much difference does that make for LA?
LAGC: It makes at least 7 difference, according to the Confitron. With Omar Gonzalez out, Leonardo had to step into his role with A.J. DeLaGarza cleaning up behind him. Seattle was able to exploit Leonardo's squishy brain liability with the smart play of experience and got to celebrate a well deserved Supporters' Shield as a result.
Without Robbie Keane, LA's attack lacked the person who Landon Donovan counts on to help create. Gyasi Zardes has become a good follower but not a great chance creator. Even at not 100%, Keane was able to free up Donovan so much against RSL that someone everyone knows should be marked was able to break out for a hat trick.
So if we're quantifying, Keane and Omar being healthy and in the lineup is responsible for the current form and thus is more responsible for overall goodness than the form itself. Those guys lifted everyone around them against RSL.
SaH: Is Seattle's recent defensive trend something that the Galaxy should worry about?
LAGC: I tell ya, watching FC Dallas trying to score in Seattle was maddening. Maddening I tell ya! Not because Dallas played all that great and Seattle bottled them up, but because Dallas played poorly. The ball kept spraying around everywhere and it felt like Dallas was doing a lot to create opportunities. My eyes saw Dallas trying really hard, and you could feel the tension. Yet they were clearly outmatched in the series.
I don't think LA will put one in nine shots on target, so I don't think specific Seattle performances are that much to worry about.
SaH: With at least 600 fans (most traveling, but some displaced Sounders) will the atmosphere take a bit of a hit, or will that amp the whole crowd up? (this figure submitted before the total grew to 700)
LAGC: 27,000 - 600 = 26,400
I know Sounder fans are used to much bigger crowds, really no one in MLS can touch the fan participation in Seattle. Mazel for that. However, I think LA will find some way to manage overcoming the 600 fans Seattle is bringing. Fans who have traveled to the StubHub! Center before know that LA doesn't put the away fans up in an upper deck corner, they get a whole section down in the bowl with the Angel City Brigade just a few sections away behind the goal. When away fans are active, ACB tends to take it as a challenge. It really lifts the atmosphere in the whole place.
LAGC: Seattle played a 0-0 draw against FC Dallas that caused gnarling abdomens across the country. Was that game plan or did Seattle's attack stall at home?
SaH: Seattle created the necessary chances to score, but did not finish. Is that the fault of the attack or the opposing keeper? As usual it was both. The Sounders did not stay in a deeper shell than typical, though Yedlin sat back more than he has against most teams (about where he plays against LA actually). Oba, Clint, Pappa, Neagle and Evans all still got forward. If they play another game like that they probably get a goal or two.
Now, the last 15 minutes or so turned into bunker time. It was nasty, ugly and all Seattle needed to win. At some point if you aren't scoring becoming a defense first team is a good idea. Plus, they were without Alonso for nearly 40 minutes. Not giving up a goal without a key defensive player like that is a credit to the whole team.
LAGC: Is this break for national team duty going to be a distraction for DeAndre Yedlin?
SaH: He only did half-duty with the Americans so it shouldn't be a much of a distraction. Most of the time he was away the entire team was on vacation. Plus, he hasn't seemed overwhelmed with the physical or emotional strain dealing with club and country commits this year. He's back now and practicing in full.
LAGC: Do the Sounders see the Galaxy put up five on a good Real Salt Lake team and feel any trepidation?
SaH: I don't think the team will be worried. Me? I'm worried. RSL has a good defense and a great keeper. Maybe LA only has a goal tank with five goals in it though and now that's drained? Please!
LAGC: If Osvaldo Alonso can't participate on Sunday, how does that influence things?
SaH: Michael Azira is a like-for-like replacement. His job would be to just sit back and defend for all his life. He isn't as good a passer, and should not get forward like Ozzie does. This is the most likely scenario, but Sigi could go two other ways. Andy Rose is healthy again. Rose gets forward a bit more than Azira (but lacks the long passing skill). Rose's biggest strength is his ability in the air. No matter where he is on the pitch he can win the high ball against all but the best in MLS. If Sigi wants more dead ball strength and to make the game a bit choppy both ways Andy makes sense.
There's one other path. It's the path of the worst defense, but much more offense. Sigi could go with two box-to-box mids in Pineda and Brad Evans. That enable him to start Neagle and Pappa (a vicious little magical thief) out wide. The Sounders would have to apply pressure higher up the pitch with this structure, but it is more likely to get an away goal, and away goals matter.