From The Other Side

From The Other Side - Kevin Baxter of The Los Angeles Times

Ozzie Alonso vs LA 150410
From The Other Side - Kevin Baxter of The Los Angeles Times -

After spending a bit of time in Los Angeles during preseason training camp, the Rave Green busily prepare for a return trip to the City of Angels this weekend to take on the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy. In what has become one of the biggest rivalries in Major League Soccer, Sounders FC will face its second road challenge this season against a Galaxy side that is off to a slow start.


SoundersFC.com caught-up with Kevin Baxter of TheLos Angeles Times to talk through the keys to the first meeting of the teams this season and what to watch for in Sunday’s match. Baxter, one of the leading soccer writers in the country, covers the Galaxy and U.S. Soccer for TheTimes, in addition to other sports. He has also covered two Summer Olympics, two Pan American Games, two FIFA World Cups, a Super Bowl and six World Series. 




Dangermen

Obviously, everyone keeps an eye on Robbie Keane. He’s the defending MLS MVP. He had 19 goals and 14 assists last season and he’s always dangerous. Gyasi Zardes, who just got back from international duty with the U.S. National team, is dangerous too. We expect those two to start in the forward spots.

But a guy you really have to keep on is Jose Villarreal in the midfield. He’s been playing well so far, especially when Zardes and Keane were away for international duty. He was in charge of the offense. 


The biggest absence from last season is Marcelo Sarvas in the midfield, who went to Colorado this year. Jose has really tried to fill in the midfield offense for both Sarvas and Landon Donovan. We knew Landon would be leaving, and I think the Galaxy was able to plan for that a little bit, but when Sarvas left, that left a bigger hole in the midfield. I think Villarreal really has stepped up and has become a playmaker on this team right now.


I think the Sounders would be well-served to really keep an eye on Villarreal on Sunday. 


Who to Watch in 2015

Everyone expected the pairing of Keane and Zardes after last year. They work very well together, but again, Villarreal in the midfield has really done a great job filling the spaces left open after last season. 


The Galaxy is very strong defensively. They really have a back six and they can use Robbie Rogers, Todd Dunivant, A.J. DeLaGarza and Tommy Meyer to keep things strong defensively. They have good goalkeeping and up front, they have the league’s MVP and an American National Team player. You expect them to be good there. It’s in the midfield where the Galaxy is going to either win or lose games this year. 


Bradford Jamieson is one of those guys who will be able to fill in some of those spaces [after he returns from USMNT U-20 duty] and Stefan Ishizaki has done a really good job, too. It’s the midfield where the Sounders have to pay attention.


This weekend, it’ll be a cast of thousands. The Galaxy will start four in the midfield – Bruce Arena always goes with a 4-4-2 – but that’s where they’ll make their substitutions, too. The Sounders will get a look at five, maybe six midfielders by the end of the match. 


Rivalry Revival

I think another thing in this game is that there’s a rivalry between these two teams. Every year, it’s Seattle and LA fighting for the top spot in the conference. Seattle can’t seem to get past the Galaxy in the big games. It’s gotten physical, especially in the playoffs last year. That’s where Sarvas really helped the Galaxy, because he was their enforcer. He’s not here anymore. 


The Galaxy are smaller in the midfield without him and they are far less physical. It’ll be interesting to see what Seattle does with that. Do they take full advantage of it? Do they throw their weight around? Do they play a different style of game knowing that the Galaxy won’t be able to match them physically? Maybe the Sounders play a bit faster.


In my mind, this game is going to be decided in the midfield because both teams have great strikers. The ball has to come up through the midfield to get to those strikers. Whoever controls the middle of the field will control who gets the most shots, and then really determines who wins the game. 


Best Offseason Pick-Up

Steven Gerrard, even though he’s not here yet. When he gets here, he’ll be their best pick-up. There don’t seem to be a lot of impact players that came through in the offseason. 


Villarreal is a guy who’s been with the team for a long time, but was away in Mexico on loan and now he’s back. He’s kind of a new guy, but he’s really been around the organization for a long time. He was a player that you didn’t see much of last year, so in that sense he’s new. 


The Galaxy didn’t bring in a lot of people this offseason, unlike the year before. This year was quieter.


Play the Full 90

The last two games, the Galaxy has given-up goals in stoppage time and ended-up losing both of those matches. Teams can’t do that, especially a team that’s so good defensively. They need to play 90 minutes and play all the way through. 


They have had some problems with goalkeepers. Jaime Penedo had contract issues and injuries.  They’ve run a few different goalkeepers out there and that’s a bit unusual to do this early in the season.


The Galaxy will be home for this match and that’s a big advantage for them. They have a long road-losing streak going back to last season, but at home they’re invincible. Being home will help them, but the Galaxy always starts slow. 


The last three or four seasons, they haven’t played well early on. Robbie Keane talked about that a lot in preseason, saying he didn’t understand why and he didn’t like it and he was upset about it. The international duty hurt them, maybe more than most other teams because they lost both forwards and their goalkeeper. They’re going to lose guys all year.


There’s Gold Cup, Copa America … Penedo has to go to both with Panama. He has two international tournaments. These games now, when everyone’s here … the Galaxy needs to win these games because in June and July, they’ll be losing players. They have to build-up a bumper now while they have their full team. 


One thing with this game too, with Sigi being brought into the Hall of Fame, is that you have two Hall of Fame coaches going against each other. Sigi’s the winningest coach in MLS history and Bruce Arena has the most titles. The coaching is going to be interesting to watch too. These guys have a history going back to when they played against each other in the 70s.


Three Thoughts on LAvSEA

  1. The Galaxy at home: They have a long road-losing streak, but they’re home. They haven’t been back at home in a few weeks. That’ll help them out. The team has already made a few big trips this season. Having them home and rested and getting a full week of training in will help.
  2. International team players are all back now. The team was closer to full strength ahead of the match with Vancouver, but some guys had just returned to the team. They’ll be better rested this week.
  3. Rivalry game: Penedo hasn’t had good results against Seattle. He talked today about how it’s a very important game. This isn’t a game that the Galaxy can take lightly because it’s a conference opponent, it’s a team they’ll be chasing all season long, and it’s their rival. If you look at the conference standings from last year, everyone expects them to be there this year. If the Galaxy can come in here and play well, it’ll be a confidence boost. Conversely, if Seattle comes in and dominates, especially after LA’s match against Vancouver, there’s going to be a lot of soul-searching on the Galaxy side. Bruce Arena said after the last match that every player had to look at the film and make sure that it never happened again. He’s already serving some warnings to these guys and a good game against Seattle would be a confidence boost. 
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