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Something To Talk About

Landon Donovan returns from South Africa as the most talked-about player in American soccer. It is the job of the Sounders FC to change the conversation.

Landon Donovan has infiltrated the American sports conscience.

Whether it was the screamer that parted the Slovenian goalkeeper’s hair on the way to a comeback from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 or the putback rebound to clinch a 1-0 win over Algeria and advance as the winners of Group C.  Even his use of every inch of the goal on a penalty kick to pull even against Ghana in the Round of 16 provided drama that captivated the whole country at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Subsequently, he did the large-scale interview circuit expected of such a feat with appearances on national talk shows like the Late Show with David Letterman, Regis and Kelly and Good Morning America, among others.

Now, the American soccer hero will make his triumphant return to  his hometown LA Galaxy Sunday in a meeting with the Sounders FC at the Home Depot Center.  The fact that the game is being played on the greatest celebration of America - Independence Day - is not lost on the national hype machines.

“It’s good.  The big picture is that we, as a sport, need our players out there.  He had a good performance in the World Cup.  Kudos to him,” said Sounders FC midfielder Peter Vagenas, a former teammate of Donovan’s with the Galaxy.  “Maybe now he’ll be a little bit tired.”

Kasey Keller had his share of brilliant performances for the US National Team and knows that, while there may be a great reception for Donovan at Home Depot Center, they won’t get carried away to the point that it will distract from the meeting at hand.

“There’s no ticker tape parade.  He’s not going to be carried in on a golden throne,” Keller smiled.  “I’m sure if Landon plays, he’ll be Landon.  We’ve all played against him in the past and we’ve all beaten him in the past.”

If anything, the tremendous holiday crowd expected on Sunday could provide a lift for the Sounders.  Just as the over-36,000 at each home match provide a great atmosphere at Qwest Field and visiting teams seemingly get a lift.

“It’s going to be packed, so we need to make sure we rise to that expectation.  Just like teams enjoy coming in here because it’s packed, we enjoy going to places when it’s packed as well,” said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid.  “There’s two great moments in the sport.  One is to fire up your own crowd, which is probably the number one thing when they rant and rave for you when you’re scoring goals.  The other is to silence an away crowd.  Our duty on Sunday is to silence an away crowd.”

Theres’ one thing the Sounders all agree on - their focus needs to remain transfixed on themselves and not on the Galaxy.  That’s not to say they won’t respect the team that only recently suffered their first defeat and are 10-1-3 on the season, including a crushing 4-0 win at Qwest Field in May.

“We do pay attention to the fact that they’re the best team in the league and I don’t think they’ve lost a game at home all year.  We need to put a run together.  For me and for the team, there’s no better place to do it than in Los Angeles,” Vagenas said.

Added Keller, “When we play the way we are capable of playing, we might not win every game but we definitely give ourselves a chance.  When we get caught up and don’t do the things we need to do that we get in trouble.  If we go down to LA and play to our ability we’re going to win the game.”

Evidence of that came last year when the Sounders were struggling in the middle of the season.  Needing a victory to turn their fortunes, the Sounders went to LA and dealt the Galaxy a 2-0 loss, transforming Seattle’s season in one night.

That type of effort is needed after the Sounders suffered two straight losses in MLS play, a 3-2 loss at home to DC United and a 3-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Union.

With Schmid and assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson and Vagenas, Tyrone Marshall, Nate Jaqua and Nathan Sturgis all having spent time with the Galaxy, there is always added emotion when the Sounders line up against the Galaxy on the road.

“There’s a lot of history going back - a lot of guys on this team with Galaxy ties,” Vagenas said.  “You could argue that between Sigi, Tyrone and myself there is more Galaxy than there is on that team, it’s a fairly new team.  For the three of us especially it’s sort of going back home and you always want to perform well in front of family and friends.”

Schmid said, “For me and a few other guys on the team, LA is always a personal game.  We know we can win on the road and we know we can win there.  We’ve done it before.  We just have to know that experience exists in our past and use it when we go into the game.”

Kickoff is slated for 7:30.  The game will be televised locally on KONG 6/16 in the Seattle area and FSN Northwest throughout the rest of the region.