Post up, Sounders fans, you are into real time now. The regular season is over, no more exhibitions, displays, Open Cup, Concacaf, Chivas, no more fiddling, no more just waving your green scarves, now you will need to wear them as well, you are in the playoffs. What started in March, before baseball, will now end after the baseball World Series, with the final MLS Championship match Nov. 21 in Toronto.
And you have just the right opponent, the LA Galaxy — a team that drubbed you twice in the first half of the season, a true LA product, with superstars Beckham, Donovan, Jininho, a team even named for the stars, a team that finished first in the league this year and barely lost in the finals to Real Salt Lake last year. They have talent, deceit, ill humor, arrogance, and a brooding, vengeful coach. No team in MLS is more easily disliked than the Galaxy, few players are you more pleased to disappoint than Beckham or Donovan. What more could you want? Donovan even said the Sounders were not of caliber.
On the other side, no team in the league has a better record than the Sounders in the second half of this season. Yet no one will pick them to win even this quarterfinal, the head to head, home/away playoff against the Galaxy. First match is Halloween Night, October 31, 5 pm at Sounder Field. It is not clear how much of the stadium they will open for this, but it will be a tough ticket to get.
The format at least is straight — two games, one at each stadium, a week apart, and the team with the most total goals moves on. There are overtimes, and penalty kicks if it stays tied. What more could you want, Sounder fan? You have downtown (LA has Carson City), you have Halloween, you may well put 20,000 more fans into your joint than cool LA could ever contrive. (First game is Oct. 31 at 5 pm, here at home.)
In the two loses to LA, you had neither N'kufo nor Jaqua and it took LA, and all the other clubs in the league, only a couple minutes to ignore the middle and kill the wings. Now you have both timbers in there and that may be all the difference. Your three hotshots — Montero, Nyassi, and Zakuani — the dudes — could, if they get the spirit, run LA ragged and hoist the flag of youth well up the pole.
One key will be possession. Soccer possession takes courage and confidence; it is not a brash act, more a long term commitment, even torment. The Sounders played a late season 0-0 game with Real Salt Lake, the other stud in the division, and Seattle surprised Real with its patience. LA will try to lure Seattle out of position and form, they will try to siren them into impatience. The Galaxy are a veteran team and much happier on counter attack than chasing a thousand small, precise passes.
If the Sounders can score first, many conditions improve. If LA scores first, then Seattle must keep the elegance that has served them so well this second half. The Galaxy can be broken, but it is youth, and form, that will break them, not arrogance, for that they have aplenty.
Jeff Parke in the Sounder defense has said nary a word and that is just as you would have it. Parke & Co. have the task of keeping order, dismissing abuse, and saving the grass.
It is not likely, but Seattle fans should consider the early Sounder music for such games — "Carmina Burana" — the slow, specific incoming menace of power. When this series is done, they shall say either that Seattle was a year or so away, or that LA missed the changing of the guard.