Seattle center back Roman Torres will face the Galaxy for the first time ever on Sunday at the StubHub Center. And given the strength of both his and Robbie Keane's personalities, tempers are likely to flair within L.A.'s attacking third.
CARSON, Calif. — The pages of the recent history between the Sounders and Galaxy are well worn.
These two clubs know each other almost too well.
They’ve met in three of the last four postseasons, Seattle winning the most recent playoff matchup but Los Angeles taking the series of greater significance. There was that painfully familiar month-and-a-half at the end of the 2014 campaign, four games in five weeks that decided both the Supporters’ Shield and eventual MLS Cup champion.
And though they’ve played just once in MLS action so far this season, the Galaxy did knock the Sounders out of the U.S. Open Cup less than a week before longtime coach Sigi Schmid lost his job.
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Picking out fresh elements of intrigue requires a deep dig. The main protagonists are well-established.
Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso will kick at ankles, probably shoving an opponent in the chest during some skirmish or another. Galaxy attacker Giovani Dos Santos, if he plays, will pull off at least one breathtaking moment of skill, and Robbie Keane will punctate every goal with a sneer of condescension. Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle’s newest Designated Player signing, has played in just eight matches for the Sounders, but even he has an L.A. match under his belt.
There is but one obvious new wrinkle to keep your eye on throughout Sunday afternoon’s match at the StubHub Center.
Seattle center back Roman Torres, who didn’t return from his knee injury until after that earlier matchup at CenturyLink Field, will face off with the Galaxy for the first time in his career. And given the strength of both his and Keane’s personalities, tempers are likely to flair within L.A.’s attacking third.
“Keane is a fantastic player,” said Brian Schmetzer, who made his Sounders interim coaching debut in the first meeting. “Roman is a good defender. They don’t know what Roman is all about. It might take Keane a few minutes to figure him out. We’ll present them a few problems.”
They’ll need Torres at his broad-shouldered best to contain this Galaxy attack.
Los Angeles entered the weekend in second place in the Western Conference, in line for a valuable first-round bye. It has scored 51 goals, more than any other team in the West, and has an MLS-best plus-17 goal differential.
The Galaxy attacking core of Keane, Dos Santos and Steven Gerrard was potent even before U.S. national team legend Landon Donovan came out of retirement a few weeks ago.
“With how good their front four is, that’s what makes them dangerous,” Sounders defender Chad Marshall said. “They’ll cheat it and then look to go at you with speed and numbers. … It’s just a matter of taking care of the ball, not having silly turnovers in bad spots on the field that are going to lead to their counterattacks.”
While L.A. is playing for seeding, Seattle (10-13-5) is playing for its playoff life.
The Sounders have won three out of four home matches under Schmetzer but have been more inconsistent on the road. They were routed by fellow playoff hopeful Portland at Providence Park, and drew at stragglers Houston and San Jose.
Schmetzer has been open about the fact that he prepares his team differently home vs. away.
“It’s up to the players on the field to make decisions based on what they see,” Schmetzer said. “The home tactics vs. away tactics are subtle, but sometimes those subtle differences can creep up.”
Finding a proper balance will be especially vital against a Galaxy team that is 8-0-7 at the StubHub Center this season. Play too tentatively, and L.A. has the ability to carve you up. Push too aggressively forward and it can strike on the break.
“We’re not going to be afraid to try to pin them back in their own half,” Schmetzer said. “(It’s) a fine balance, but it’s something I’m confident the guys understand.”
For 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon, all of that previous baggage with fade into the background.
Torres will put a shoulder into Keane’s back, and the veteran forward will size up his new adversary. The Galaxy will play for playoff positioning, as per usual this time of year, while the Sounders will play with a level of win-or-else desperation not always present in this series.
“It’s a very strong rivalry,” Lodeiro said Friday through an interpreter. “They’ve been competing for a while now. But for now, we need to let the rivalry go and just focus on the only objective, which is to win.”