LA Galaxy are in command of the Supporters' Shield race, but have a significant obstacle to overcome if they are to actually take it - the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. Bruce Arena's usual powerhouse is a woeful 2-8-5 -14 away from StubHub Center this year. Only the Impact, RSL and Fire are worse. That's good news for a Sounders team that will be playing without their best two centerbacks.
A crowd around 55,000 is expected for the massive match with significant playoff positioning on the line. A win could clinch Seattle a playoff berth. A win would also set them up to host a playoff game.
Sean from LAG Confidential answers Three Questions.
SaH: The Galaxy have struggled on the road. How will they be able to figure out how to win away from StubHub this weekend?
LAGC: I'm not sure they will. The Galaxy's road form is somewhat of a mystery and, as a fan, I'm long past the point where I find myself going into road games with any expectations of getting a result. We do have guys like Gerrard and Dos Santos who have yet to play a road game in MLS with the kind of atmosphere you guys have in Seattle, so, perhaps it drives them to step up to the plate. I'm not expecting it, though, so I'm afraid there will be no refunds for your fans this go around.
SaH: Has Bruce Arena settled on roles for Gerrard, dos Santos and Zardes?
LAGC: In terms of Gerrard, I think Bruce has certainly settled on his place in the offense. Bruce likes to let players figure things out on the field so I think it's more about whether Gerrard has figured out how to play with Juninho. So far, they've been playing rather flat and Gerrard hasn't gotten forward as much as expected, but this changed last game against Dallas, so, hopefully this is a sign of things to come and the midfield will stack in the same manner that Sarvas played in front of Juninho last year..
In terms of Gio and Zardes, it's looking more and more like Bruce likes having dos Santos as a forward and Zardes as a winger. This is less than ideal for a number of reasons, primarily because neither of them are particularly good at hold-up play, but the tandem can strike with real venom on the counter. In terms of Zardes on the wing... well, he tries. I guess that's something.
SaH: How effective is the Galaxy set-piece attack? Is it about service or finishing?
LAGC: (Puts on nerd hat) This is actually a very hard thing to judge from a statistical standpoint. With the exception of the Sounders who clearly have set piece issues, the league range is 7-13 on set piece goals (the Sounders have 4). This isn't that large of a gap when you consider the amount of chance, and thus variability when it comes to goal scoring and goal scoring numbers. Given goal scoring variability and the small sample size, it's hard to actually judge if LA is actually all that good in these situations. LA has 11 set piece goals which ties them for 3rd in the league, but they could just as easily be at 8 or 9. Usually I'd refer to expected goals models to level out some of this noise, but these models are actually quite bad at judging set-pieces. That being said, I think the amount of playing time that Alan Gordon got at the beginning of the year is something that can be pointed to in terms of the Galaxy's set-piece success. In fact, he makes up 27% of LA's set piece goals. Despite being 3rd, I don't actually think the Galaxy are that strong a team when it comes to scoring set piece goals unless Alan Gordon is on the field. Despite his size, Omar doesn't score many, and neither does Leanardo. Keane isn't much of a target and Gyasi is only average.
Keane, dos Santos, Lletget, Juninho, Gerrard, Zardes, Rogers, Leonardo, Gonzalez, DeLaGarza, Ricketts .
LAGC: I've noticed you guys are winning soccer games again after a brief hiatus. In terms of form, is the team back to where it was prior to Oba's injury? Better? Worse? Is the team's style changed at all since the early season?
SaH: While they are probably more talented than they were in the first 15 games of the year (9-4-2 +12) there are some issues as players learn to play together. The biggest stylistic difference is based on Ivanschitz, who offers them a true winger, and Friberg, who offers them a deep-lying playmaker. Outside of that the team plays like it does when both Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey play - they win. Over the past two seasons now the Sounders are averaging basically two points a game when the duo play. They are also scoring about two goals a game with those two up top. There's no real magic. One drops deep to become the playmaker and one of the wide players becomes a forward. Then there's the intricate passing and then there is a goal.
LAGC: What's the status of Marshall and will it affect the game in a major way?"
SaH: Chad Marshall is out with a sprained neck, but is expected back after this weekend's match. That means that both of Seattle's best centerbacks are out - Torres blew his knee against San Jose. In a single game the Sounders 3rd and 4th CBs should be fine. Zach Scott was the best non-Marshall CB last year when the team won the Shield. Brad Evans is a fringe USMNT player who was great as Marshall's partner when the team only gave up 11 goals in those 1st 15 games. That includes a howler against San Jose when Evans played after finding out his grandmother died. Not many MLS sides can be confident in their 3rd and 4th CBs, this one can.
LAGC: What's the deal with Ivanschitz ? I hear he's the Austrian Beckham, but I'm not sure what that means. Is there an Austrian Posh, or Austrian Brooklyn? Is there an Austrian Grant Wahl writing books about him? In what ways might he give the Galaxy problems?
SaH: Here in the Pacific Northwest we have this odd habit of focusing on the game of soccer. So when people say that Andreas Ivanschitz is the Austrian Beckham it is because he was once his nation's hope of greatness and that he delivers a sublime ball on set-pieces. Seattle hasn't had great service since Mauro Rosales left. Now with Ivanschitz they should improve their set-piece scoring, which is woeful this season. His primary targets on Sunday will be Valdez, Evans and Scott.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Alonso, Friberg, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins