Unlike most great comeback scenarios, the Sounders lack the element of surprise entering the second game of their Western Conference final. But that doesn't mean it can't be done.
You don’t exactly plan a comeback. That’s the thrill of it, the randomness. It happens at the height of frustration with your favorite team, at the brink of surrender. Then, with the confluence of the trailer’s determination and the front-runner’s overconfidence, amazing occurs out of nowhere.
It’s stealthy bliss.
So, what happens when you set a goal to achieve this random, amazing, perfect storm? Can you really take the sneaky out of a comeback?
That is the challenge Sounders FC faces Sunday night against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the second leg of the Western Conference final. After losing by three goals in the first leg last Sunday, the Sounders return to CenturyLink Field desperate to pull off the incredible in this aggregate-goal series. Having home-field advantage in the wonky Major League Soccer playoffs apparently just gives you the chance to suffer in comfortable confines.
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But this is no time to complain about the playoff format or the odd pacing of playoff games. The Sounders need a most unlikely comeback. It feels like this deficit is akin to being down 3-0 in a best-of-seven MLB or NBA series, and the trailing team is already getting blown out in Game 4. It feels like the Sounders are entering the 12th round of a boxing match knowing that they’re so far behind they can only win with a knockout.
The Galaxy knows this, too, and that’s what makes the degree of difficulty so high. They can sit on their lead, junk up this match for 90 minutes and advance to the MLS Cup. So you seek tales of hope. You embrace the old “crazier things have happened” cliché.
Sounders defender Adam Johansson experienced the most stunning comeback of his career just last month. His national team, Sweden, erased a 4-0 deficit in the final 30 minutes against Germany to earn a 4-4 draw in a World Cup qualifier. And that match was in Berlin.
“I think what I take from that is you have to believe that it’s never over,” Johansson said. “We scored the last goal on the last kick, and so you can’t stop believing, and you’ve got to just work on and work hard.
“When we were down like that in the 60th minute, I was thinking, ‘Just get this game over. Just finish the game and let it be 4-0.’ I felt like they were playing so well, and they were so much better than us. You want to still have some kind of honor, you know, and we could’ve lost that game by six or seven. But you just want to work hard and just play the 90 minutes. When we started scoring goals — the first and second were within three minutes — and I think after that, everybody started feeling like, ‘Yeah, this might happen. We might work this out.’ And when we got the third, I think they got a bit scared and started thinking.”
If a crazy comeback can happen on such a grand stage, if Germany, the world’s No. 2 team, can be the victim, then there’s always hope. Problem is, it’s much easier to get hot and stun an opponent within the same game. In this case, the Galaxy knows what to expect and should have the humility to recognize it’s possible, even if it feels impossible. They have had a week to prepare for every strategy the Sounders might employ to open up the game and create scoring opportunities.
The one thing the Galaxy can’t combat: The Sounders’ belief in the unbelievable. As long as the Sounders have that, they’re a threat.
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid can take you back to his college days at UCLA and remember trailing Southern Methodist 2-0 with 10 minutes left in the NCAA tournament and winning 4-2. He can remember being down a goal and down two players with 10 minutes left in a match and rallying to win. He can remember an MLS game against the now-defunct Miami Fusion FC in which his team was down 4-1 and scored four goals in the second half to win 5-4 on a “hot, humid, miserable Miami day.”
“So, there’s obviously opportunities,” Schmid said.
The underrated key to Sunday: Which team is the first to club the other with doubt. An early goal by the Galaxy would be a killer. A fast start from the Sounders could cause L.A. to panic.
It’s too bad the Sounders put themselves in this position. Celebration of their first playoff triumph in franchise history turned into desperation way too quickly. Now, their season is down to this: Make history or bust.
No MLS team has ever won a two-game series after losing the first leg by three goals.
“To have a historic moment, you’ve got to create it,” Schmid joked. “So we’ve created it. Somehow, now we just need to have a historic moment.”
It would be history of the most difficult kind — preplanned history. Everyone knows the attempt is coming. If the Sounders can pull off a transparent comeback, it will be their greatest feat to date.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org