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Sounders look to put the brakes on Chicharito, LA Galaxy resurgence

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Sounders should be much closer to full-strength against an unexpectedly daunting opponent.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at LA Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

When we last left the LA Galaxy at the end of the 2020 season, the former flagship team of MLS had missed the playoffs for third time in four seasons, fired their high-profile manager, and their blockbuster signing capped off an injury-plagued season with a whopping two goals.

It’s been a stunning fall from grace for the league’s most decorated team, and it seems a long way from even a couple of years ago when Zlatan was dragging the Galaxy to the playoffs — and relevance. So when the Sounders take on the upstart Galaxy on Sunday, the defending Western Conference champions will look to maintain their recent dominance over the league’s crown jewel that has seen them lose just two of their past 15 meetings with their former “bogey” team.

Calling the Galaxy “upstart” might seem like a dig or swipe, but coming into the season, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Even with a well-respected head coach hire in Greg Vanney, it was tough to predict that this version of the Galaxy would do anything but struggle to get into the playoffs. Having apparently lost talisman Cristian Pavon due to some transfer issues and domestic violence charges without replacing his production, the Galaxy didn’t make a splash during the preseason portion of the transfer window. The rest of their lineup hardly strikes fear into opponents, and the aforementioned lack of production from Javier Hernandez — who called 2020 possibly the “worst year of his life” — meant it looked like another rebuilding year. Not where you want to be in a town with LAFC still sporting the new-car smell.

Still, after a 2-0 start with Hernandez scoring five goals, the Sounders know they cannot take the Galaxy lightly, even if it’s unclear that this is The Galaxy that used to bounce the Sounders from the playoffs year after year.

“It makes me nervous [because] we gotta plan for an in-form forward, a guy who has scored goals in many different leagues,” Coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It puts pressure on all of the other forwards in the league [and] teams in the league. How do you stop him?”

Hernandez’s resurgence is a good story for MLS, according to Schmetzer, in part because it helps justify the resources expended to bring him into the league after a long courtship. Additionally, Schmetzer said he is happy for Hernandez on personal level, knowing a little bit about what the Mexican international went through last year.

“A guy got beat up last year because it cost a lot of money to bring him over,” Schmetzer said. “Was it all his fault? Were there some issues with the entire team? It’s not just a one-man game. It’s a great story for MLS, it’s a great story for the Galaxy. But it’s even a better story for Chicharito.”

The Sounders injury report should help Schmetzer deal with the new-look Galaxy, as the team is getting close to full strength.

“I’m pleased to announce that Nico is available for selection and will participate in the game. Same with Jimmy Medranda,” Schmetzer said. “Fredy Montero is very very close; he trained in full today. We should be at a full complement by final testing for all of those players.”

Schmetzer did appear to put the brakes on the idea that Nico would automatically start against the Galaxy, both because it will be his first game back, and because there is no major rush to get him on the field given the emergence of Josh Atencio.

“Josh has earned another start — the kid has played well,” Schmetzer said.