Ever since the infamous "refund game" the LA Galaxy have had a special place in Seattle Sounders lore. Since then, the Galaxy have gone on to eliminate the Sounders three times from the postseason. They had done so in dominating, frustrating and excruciating fashion.
The Sounders, it should be said, have historically matched up better with the Galaxy than most fans like to admit. The Sounders have won each of the two times they've faced off in the U.S. Open Cup and there was, of course, last year's Supporters' Shield that they won after facing the Galaxy in the final two matches of the regular season.
But even after those triumphs, the Galaxy have always been the Sounders' "bogey" team. Bruce Arena always seemed to get the best of Sigi Schmid when it mattered most. The breaks always seemed to go the Galaxy's way when the games were at their most crucial.
Until Wednesday, of course. The Sounders didn't get all the breaks, but they capitalized on the ones they got. Schmid might not have coached Arena out of the building, but he got his team into better spots throughout the second half.
The roar that came out of CenturyLink Field when Erik Friberg's perfect shot shook the back of the net was not just the joy you feel from taking a late lead in a playoff game. This was nearly seven years' worth of frustration being released in one moment.
At long last, the Sounders got over their biggest impediment to a MLS Cup. Their path to their first-ever MLS Cup will never be clearer.
There's no secret that the Sounders are built to win now. Look at the roster. Their four main attacking players against the Galaxy were all 31 or 32. All four of their defenders were at least 30. Erik Friberg is 29. Andy Rose was the team's youngest starter and at 25, it's a stretch to really call him "young," anymore.
It can definitely be argued that this Sounders team has at least one more good run in them after this one, but if they can't get past the likes of FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps now -- all of whom are younger and conceivably getting better virtually across the board -- it's a fair question to ask "When will they?"
The Sounders went 1-0-1 against FC Dallas this year and 3-1-1 against the Whitecaps across all competitions. When they weren't playing down three men or without any of their stars, the Sounders were 2-0-0 against the Timbers. None are teams the Sounders can afford to lose to and maintain the illusion that they are just biding their time to qualify for their first MLS Cup final.
If it all breaks right, there's even a chance the Sounders could host the MLS Cup final and only leave Cascadia once over the season's final six weeks. It may never line up this well, again.
Yes, injuries are going to make this harder. Leo Gonzalez and Brad Evans both left the Galaxy match with varying levels of injuries. It's not looking like Osvaldo Alonso will be able to play on Sunday. Román Torres is basically just a rumor, still. All important players. All capable of making the Sounders even better than they have been over the past two months. All possibly out of action for at least part of the playoffs.
But their absences won't make failure to reach the MLS Cup final any less frustrating. Sure, it can be reasonably argued that keeping this team's core together will result in a better equipped squad next year. That, of course, assumes better health. None of the team's core players are particularly young, after all, and as long as this team is built around veterans it's simply a cost of doing business. Dallas, Vancouver and even the Timbers are all younger and will likely be improved. The Galaxy will surely reload and will be more familiar with one another.
I say all this not to be wet blanket during an otherwise celebratory time. I say it to remind us that beating the Galaxy was never the goal. Beating the Galaxy was a means to an end. That end is lifting the MLS Cup. The Sounders' may never have a better opportunity than now.