The defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield holders are coming to town and the Sounders FC is ready at the wait.
The Sounders will meet the Galaxy on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field in the first of three meetings between the Western Conference foes in 2012, pitting the top two teams in MLS since 2009 against each other. LA holds the league’s best record since 2009 when the Sounders joined the league at 52-21-28 (184 points) while Seattle is second at 48-25-27 (171 points).
“It’s a big game for us. Especially because LA is the champion,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who is in his first season with the Sounders, but all too familiar with the rivalry. “Wednesday is a big test for us. Everybody is 100% motivated – maybe even a bit more.”
Landon Donovan continues to be one of the greatest threats in the league. After posting 12 goals and three assists while playing just two-thirds of the Galaxy’s matches last year, he now has two goals and two assists to start 2012. He is third on the league’s all-time list with 117 goals and sixth with 96 assists.
Robbie Keane, the Irish international who has starred for Tottenham Hotspur for over half of his 15 years in Europe, joined the Galaxy late last season and finished with two goals in four matches. This season, he already has three goals and two assists in seven matches to pace Los Angeles.
Then there’s David Beckham. The superstar midfielder finished the 2011 season with 15 assists to keep the Galaxy on lead LA to their second straight Supporters’ Shield. This season he has one goal and two assists.
While they are all three dangerous players, the preparation goes far beyond those three names for the Sounders.
“The LA Galaxy are a special team because of the big names. But we will have the same preparation as any other game,” Gspurning said. “On the field, every player is the same and you have to make your work. They are great players, but we have a good team.”
The three superstars are not alone with the Galaxy this season though. They reacquired forward Edson Buddle after a short stint at Ingolstadt of the German second division, adding a player that scored 17 goals for LA in 2010 and now has 91 goals in 238 career MLS matches.
Their starting lineup also features volatile midfielders Mike Magee and Juninho. Add to that the options of veterans Pat Noonan (42 goals and 33 assists in 177 MLS matches) and Chad Barrett (41 goals and 25 assists in 181 MLS matches) and the Galaxy have the pieces to be a constant threat on the offensive end.
Where they have struggled this season is in their defense. In seven matches, they have allowed 11 goals – the sixth highest total in the league. After losing defenders Gregg Berhalter and Frankie Hejduk to retirement and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts in a trade with the Montreal Impact, the Galaxy were hit with a wrecking ball when they also lost standout center back Omar Gonzalez to a torn ACL while he was away on loan to Nuremberg in Germany.
That leaves them still with high quality players like Todd Dunivant, Sean Franklin and AJ De La Garza. But goalkeeper Josh Saunders has struggled and they haven’t been able to find a player to fill the gap left by Gonzalez. In rookie Tommy Meyer’s three starts, they are 1-2-0 while allowing five goals. Andrew Boyens made two starts and LA went 1-1-0, but allowed four goals. Finally, they traded for former Chivas USA defender David Junior Lopes. In seven starts with Chivas last year, they went 1-4-2 while allowing 11 goals. But in three starts since joining the Galaxy, LA has gone 2-0-1 while letting in just three goals.
“The adaptation of Omar not being there, Josh Saunders is now the number one goalkeeper where, even though he almost got a full season in last year, Ricketts was always there,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “Sometimes that changes your perspective a little bit – everybody getting used to each other.”
The Galaxy have a roster full of stars, though head coach Bruce Arena has indicated they may not all be in the starting lineup for the second of three games in eight days for LA. And while they’ve sputtered to a 3-3-1 start, Schmid said the Galaxy continue to be a team good enough to compete for the Supporters’ Shield.
“They’re a group with a lot of experience. They’re a group of World Cup players that have played prominent roles for their countries,” Schmid said. “As a result of that you can never look at the record and say that’s a reflection of the team. The team is a reflection of their individuals and they’ve got some very, very good individuals.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 pm Pacific with television coverage live on KONG 6/16 and the radio broadcast featured on 97.3 KIRO FM.