The Seattle Sounders are in Los Angeles this weekend for their second game in the MLS playoffs. That sentence sounds so inoffensive when written outside of context, so it's time to paint the bigger picture. The Sounders face the Galaxy on their own turf, while the home team is carrying a 1-0 lead. If Seattle doesn't get a goal, they'll be knocked out of the playoffs for the second straight season. Even if Seattle get that goal, they'll have to shut down the Galaxy, and if they don't score more than once they'll be looking at thirty minutes of extra time before a penalty shootout.
Oh, and did I mention they're missing the man who has arguably been their best defender for the second half of the season? Jeff Parke will be replaced by Tyrone Marshall, who was a stalwart last year but ineffective this season.In other words, the odds aren't great for the Sounders. Overcoming a deficit in a hostile environment with an injured player is not exactly easy to do. The key for Seattle in the second leg will be finding space in which to create chances.
In the first leg, the Galaxy closed down the Seattle offense, neutralizing the speed of Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi and preventing service to Blaise Nkufo and Fredy Montero. While Alvaro Fernandez's substitute play brought greater precision and creativity, it is almost certain that Sigi Schmid will not give the Uruguayan the start on Sunday, preferring to stick with the devil he knows. For Seattle to be effective, Nyassi will need to have learned that he cannot take the ball through the Galaxy midfield-the Los Angeles players will almost immediately win possession, as they did again and again last week.
As for the Galaxy, they're likely to stick with the more defensive style they exhibited in Seattle. If they simply keep the visitors from scoring, they're through to the next round. Los Angeles played both Landon Donovan and David Beckham in more defensive positions, creating a counter-attack reliant on long balls. Which, of course, worked out just fine for the Galaxy, with a long pass to Edson Buddle resulting in his beautiful goal.
Seattle obviously have no reason to sit back and defend. They'll be throwing everything that they have at the Galaxy, but they either need to be less reliant on their wing play or find a way through the center of the field. The Sounders need to take more chances on Sunday night. Rather than sending through long passes in the hopes of getting a shot from close range, Seattle should try their luck on long-distance shots. Fredy Montero can certainly score those, and Osvaldo Alonso also has a great shot from distance. It was his first-minute strike that rattled the Galaxy, allowing Zakuani to score off the rebound. That goal was ruled offside, but it's that sort of play that will wear down Los Angeles and expose their vulnerabilities.