Being the 4th seed has its perks, namely that Seattle get to host this match up. Playing LA Galaxy is annoying, going to LA is worse, and a one-game road playoff would be too nervy no matter the opponent. Before you start to fret about LA or how the Sounders played the second half against Real Salt Lake, let's break this down. Together we can overcome the fear based on Sounders playoff results and our fearsome "friends" from Carson.
To start with, LA is coming off a loss. While the Sounders crushed RSL 3-1, LA lost to Sporting Kansas City 2-1 in Kansas City. Before you jump to any conclusions about who started for LA, they started their best possible lineup. LA lost the possession battle by 1 percent and was outpassed and outplayed in each third of the field. Sure, LA fans and pundits will throw up excuses like "LA was already locked in" or "KC had to play for their lives," but the fact is that LA wanted to win to prevent this Wednesday game and they didn't. LA pushed on once they went down 2-1, that is when they had the majority of the possession, the final 25 minutes. LA poured the pressure on and even pulled right back AJ DeLaGarza for "defender" Alan Gordon. They left everything on the field and were not rewarded.
Now that all being said, it makes LA a bit more dangerous. After losing they want to do everything to get it back, but they also did something they haven't since 2011: They played someone not from Seattle for their final game. Each of those final games against Seattle has led to an almost immediate turnaround in a playoff series in which LA has advanced by winning their home game. Without that home game, the Sounders have the advantage in the series finale.
The Galaxy, barring any new injuries between now and kickoff, will stick to the same lineup they went with in KC and against Seattle at the beginning of October. Unlike that game, the Sounders will be at full strength with Chad Marshall and Nelson Valdez available. Both bring matchup problems that were missing in the Oct. 4 match. Valdez will pin Robbie Rodgers back and prevent his attacks from bringing any value. He'll provide support to Mears on Sebastian Lletget. The offense from the Galaxy's left will be neutralized, which was fairly true with Neagle and Mears last time out. If Marco Pappa starts out right, it'll be a tougher matchup for Mears, but one he handled well last time out.
On the Galaxy's right, it is DeLaGarza (a centerback playing out of position) and Gyasi Zardes. Zardes proved me right when he failed to defend last time out. Ivanschitz and partner (Leo/Remick/Fisher) will be able to hold them again, and if Neagle or Pappa starts, the same is true. Ivanschitz or Pappa out left would give a great creative option but risks defensive cracks if a player not named Leo Gonzalez starts at LB. The right side will be where the Galaxy go if they try the wings. Expect the Sounders left side to have a harder time operating on the wing against DeLaGarza, but with Zardes being defensively weak, the left-sided winger will be able to cut inside without a problem.
In the midfield, Stevie G and Juninho are a good team but, like last time, they are slow. They allowed the Sounders over 60 percent possession and 700 passes. They have not won or controlled a midfield against a side with a strong individual there, like Alonso. Pineda and Ozzie won it last time and will again, though Friberg and Ozzie would likely be the better pairing. No matter the team in the middle, the LA attack won't have much to do in that spot.
Why should we be concerned then, if LA are vulnerable defensively to the wingers and Clintfemi; the midfield will be dominated by the Honey Badger; and they have no wing attack? It's because they still have two of the best strikers in Major League Soccer. Robbie Keane and Giovani Dos Santos (two men I hate to compliment) are pretty damn good strikers. They didn't wreak havoc in Seattle, nor in KC last weekend, but they are definitely capable of turning it on at a moments notice. Just as deadly as Clintfemi, Dos Keane give defenders headaches. Zardes has enough speed and Lletget enough tactical skill to prevent either wingback from collapsing on the two. It'll be up to Sheriff Evans and Air Marshall to stop the attack. Last time, Scott and Evans did a formidable job and only gave up a 36th minute goal to Keane on a poor back pass across the middle by Zach Scott. Absent that pass, the Sounders win on Chad Barrett's late knee goal.
The Sounders will have their hands full, but so will LA. It will be about substitutes and which coach can get their team up for this one. It'll be about emotion and focus, and Seattle has been caught before. But not this time. This time it's different. This time we struck gold before we got in. We are healthy. We are golden. The Galaxy will drop this time and the changing of the guard will be complete this year. Sounders take it 2-1.