Sounders face talent-loaded Galaxy in Western Conference final
Don't let the No. 4 seed fool you — Sounders forward Eddie Johnson calls Los Angeles 'our Real Madrid... our Barcelona of MLS.'
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders FC @ L.A. Galaxy, 6 p.m., ESPN
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CARSON, Calif. — The Los Angeles Galaxy came into the MLS Cup playoffs as one of the lowest seeds in the field.
So does that make them underdogs? Hardly.
"For me, this is the best team in the league," said Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson, referring to the Galaxy. "This is our Real Madrid, this is our Barcelona of MLS."
And such is the formidable test ahead of Seattle in the Western Conference finals, a two-game, aggregate-goals series that kicks off at 6 p.m. Sunday at The Home Depot Center. It's a worthy challenge for a Sounders team looking to validate itself in MLS after its first playoff series win in four years.
"They're the defending champions," coach Sigi Schmid said of L.A., "and if you want to win a championship, you've got to beat all the teams that are put in front of you. The Galaxy is the team in front of us right now and that's the team we've got to beat if we want to win the championship."
The stars are what first come to mind with the Galaxy, from designated players David Beckham and Landon Donovan, to coach Bruce Arena, who led the U.S. men's national team in two FIFA World Cups.
But it is L.A.'s often less-heralded designated player, Robbie Keane, who is having the biggest impact. No more evident was that than in the team's conference semifinal against top-ranked San Jose, as Keane scored twice in the second leg of a series the Galaxy won 3-2 on aggregate.
"To me, in that game, Robbie Keane stepped up and said, 'Get on my back. I'll carry you over the line,' " Schmid said. "And he did."
So how do you stop the talented forward, who was voted the Galaxy's team MVP after scoring a team-high 16 goals in the regular season?
"I don't know, maybe get him some bad Irish beer or something," joked Schmid of the Irish international.
The actual game plan will be keeping Keane, who often drifts into the midfield, off the ball as much as possible. The lion's share of those defensive duties on Keane might fall to Seattle defender Jeff Parke, who Schmid said is playing some of the best soccer of his career.
Parke said he would have to stay tight with Keane to limit his chances throughout the game.
"It's not an easy task, but it's something we're up for," he said.
What also might help slow Keane is the playoff schedule. Sunday's game will be L.A.'s fourth in 11 days.
Schmid, whose team is playing its third game in 10 days, still expects the hosts to come out firing on offense. The key, he said, will be weathering that early pressure.
"I think they'll tire a bit in the second half," Schmid said, "and hopefully that will come to our advantage."
for gay slur
MLS suspended Sounders FC's Marc Burch three games for his use of a gay slur in Thursday's playoff game at Real Salt Lake, effectively ending the defender's season. Burch, who was in line to start Sunday, was also fined an undisclosed amount and must attend diversity and sensitivity training.
"Major League Soccer has a zero tolerance policy in response to this type of behavior from its players or staff," said MLS commissioner Don Garber in a release. "While I understand and believe that Mr. Burch is remorseful, Major League Soccer is committed to providing an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect."
• Midfielder Mauro Rosales and defender Leo Gonzalez are questionable for the game. Schmid didn't rule either out.