On Sunday, the Sounders FC meet the LA Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Conference finals at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
We asked the LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano the key questions to the series to get a look at the team on the other bench in the latest edition of “Know Your Enemy.”
Question: Defensively, LA is much different without AJ DeLaGarza. How have they been able to stand firm in the back in his absence?
Serrano: “Two words, Tommy Meyer.
The rookie defender has stepped into the spot next to Omar Gonzalez vacated by the injured DeLaGarza with relative ease to help LA maintain the steady defense that has been the club’s staple for years. The Galaxy rookie seemingly came of age in the Western Conference Semifinal Second Leg against San Jose as he repeatedly shut down the likes of Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart.
Considered by many on the team to be the club’s most improved player in the second half of the season, Meyer has flourished due to his extended minutes in CONCACAF Champions League and MLS Reserve League play. However, when Meyer has struggled, Gonzalez and other members of the LA defense –Sean Franklin, Todd Dunivant and Josh Saunders—have stepped up and made the timely stops that have kept the Galaxy in games.”
Q: Was the turnaround this year as simple as showing how important Omar Gonzalez is to the team?
Serrano: “Not exactly. The return of Gonzalez has been immensely important for the Galaxy, but he wasn’t the only player to return midseason and provide a boost for LA. In particular, the return of Josh Saunders from a month-long enrollment in the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program as proved to be a boon for LA. After Saunders returned on Father’s Day, the Galaxy went 13-5-2 through the regular season as his presence in goal seemed to provide an emotional lift for his backline.
Also, the play of Robbie Keane deserves mention as he has tallied an impressive 12 goals since the start of July. But the forward’s impact hasn’t purely been felt on the scoresheet as the Irish forward has provided a leadership boost for the club’s young attackers.”
Q: LA played a lot of games over the last two years. How much of a toll does that take on the team?
Serrano: “The LA Galaxy may have played a high number of games, but the club has taken those matches and turned them into valuable experiences. Perhaps the only concern for the club isn’t the games that they’ve played over the years, but how many they’ve played in short succession this season.
Since the last international break, LA will have played six games 22 days after the Western Conference Championship First Leg. However, the Galaxy have done well to deal with the bumps and bruises that have come along the way and seem relatively fit ahead of the Seattle series.”
Q: What impact has Christian Wilhelmsson had after his late-season addition?
Serrano: “Wilhelmsson was brought into the Galaxy provide more width to a team that enjoys playing down the center of the park, but so far due to various injuries, the Swede has struggled to lock down a playing spot.
With Wilhelmsson, the issue now seems to be confidence. The speed and dribbling ability that have made him a staple on the Sweden’s national team are there, but his final touch has been lacking. As you saw in the second leg against the Earthquakes, Wilhelmsson was able to make an immediate impact off the bench, nearly scoring a pair of goals as LA looked to capitalize on the Earthquakes late pressure. However, each time that he had an opportunity, his finishing was off as his shots were either saved by Jon Busch or sailed wide.
Should Wilhelmsson grab a goal against Seattle, I think that he’d improve his confidence considerably and may very well earn the starting spot that he has long desired.”
Q: The focus often is to slow down the trio of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane, but there are others who are dangerous too. Speak to the importance of those other players - Juninho, Magee, Buddle and the like.
Serrano: “The most important battle in this match, in my opinion, will be the battle between Juninho and Osvaldo Alonso. The Brazilian midfielder has flourished in the center of the Galaxy midfield by displaying a healthy mix of physical play and offensive skill with his 30-foot-bombs. If LA are to advance to the final, they will need Juninho to boss the midfield and use his passing abilities to create chances. Meanwhile, Buddle has enjoyed a minor resurgence as of late with a few strong games against the San Jose.
Also deserving of an honorable mention is midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who is expected to play a major role off the bench for the Galaxy in the Conference Championship.”
Q: Lastly, Mike Magee has proven to be quite the late-season hero. What does he mean to that team and the fans there?
Serrano: “Plain and simple, Mike Magee is a cult hero among LA Galaxy fans.
Whether it is through his timely goals in the postseason—Magee has now scored in four goals in six postseason games–or his brief stint at goalkeeper in a game at Buck Shaw Stadium last July, Magee has solidified his spot as one of the most popular players on LA.
From a team standpoint, Magee is your classic chemistry player, who is considered by many on the team to be one of the club’s most technical players with his ball skills and finishing.”
Serrano's work appears on LAGalaxy.com.
The first game of the series kicks off at 6 pm Pacific on ESPN. The return leg in the aggregate-goal series will come on November 18 at CenturyLink Field.