Sounders FC only finished fourth in the Western Conference standings this season, but several other factors seem to line up in Seattle’s favor to knockout a longtime nemesis, the Los Angeles Galaxy, Wednesday.
The Sounders have never beaten the L.A. Galaxy in a playoff series, a caveat that gets tacked onto every accomplishment the club has racked up in MLS.
The defending champions are the boogeyman in Seattle’s closet, emerging to haunt them in comment sections after big wins and during losing streaks.
Win the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield? Come talk to me when you beat the Galaxy in the postseason.
Drop a couple of straight games or lose at home to the ‘Quakes? Can you imagine what L.A. is going to do to them come playoff time?
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“People are going to say what they’re going to say,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday. “I can’t worry about that. If they don’t think we want to win it, then they’re sadly mistaken. We want to win it as badly as anybody.”
Wednesday’s one-game playoff against the Galaxy represents Seattle’s best chance yet to finally get over that stubborn hump.
For one, the match is at CenturyLink Field, and L.A. is a dreadful 2-9-6 away from home this season. Though the Sounders have dropped all three previous series on aggregate, they’ve actually won two of the three playoff meetings at CenturyLink.
In the 2012 Western Conference finals, Seattle nearly overcame the three-goal gap L.A. carved at StubHub Center only to have Robbie Keane conjure up a backbreaking penalty kick out of thin air. Last season, the Sounders were 45 minutes from their first MLS Cup final before Juninho’s second-half goal settled the series.
The near-misses have furthered the perception of Seattle as the bridesmaid to the five-time league champions. “We’ve consistently put ourselves into a position to have a shot at it,” Schmid said.
“There’s a lot of teams who are not in the playoffs … or only have periodic shots at it. I’m really proud of what the organization has accomplished in being there year after year.”
By the numbers, this doesn’t look like the Sounders team likely to break through. Their fourth-place finish in the Western Conference matches the lowest in club history, and by points per game, this was Seattle’s worst regular season.
But there would be something appropriate about these Sounders finally coming through, the bounces finally breaking their way in the moment when a title run is least expected.
L.A. has also taken a step back, finishing with 10 fewer points than it managed in 2014 and looking like a shell of its record-breaking self.
“If you get past the Galaxy, then you probably feel like you’ve got a great shot of winning the whole thing,” Seattle midfielder Andy Rose said.
Either Dallas or Vancouver awaits the winner on the other side of the knockout round. And while Dallas and the Whitecaps are young and exciting, convention dictates that neither is necessarily a virtue come playoff time.
Seattle’s veteran core can sense their window beginning to close, as well as an opportunity there for the taking even after an underwhelming regular season.
“When you get a bit older, you never know when that second chance comes,” Sounders captain Brad Evans said. “A lot of us have been here a long time. You like to think we’ve experienced just about everything. Can we use that to our advantage? Maybe you sleep better tonight, but at the end of the day, come game day, it’s a different beast.”
Win Wednesday night, and the path to Seattle’s first MLS Cup starts to clear. Beat the Galaxy in the playoffs, and the question that has nagged Seattle for years finally has a decisive answer.
“That’s the reality of it,” Evans said. “That’s the current label. Obviously, they’ve got our number in big games. That’s been the playoffs over the course of the last seven years, it seems.
“For us, we’ve got to try to rewrite the script, and that starts tomorrow.”
|Three-and-oh: Sounders winless against the Galaxy in postseason rounds|
|2010||Western Conference semis||Galaxy 3, Sounders 1 (1-0 L.A. in Leg 1, 2-1 L.A. in Leg 2)|
|2012||Western Conference finals||Galaxy 4, Sounders 2 (3-0 L.A. in Leg 1, 2-1 Seattle in Leg 2)|
|2014||Western Conference finals||Galaxy 2, Sounders 2; L.A. advances on away goals tiebreaker (1-0 L.A.Leg 1, 2-1 Seattle Leg 2)|