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Saturday, October 30, 2010
Galaxy-Sounders: What's important, what's not

By Scott French in Seattle

Some things will mean more than others when the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders open their Major League Soccer first-round playoff series Sunday at Qwest Field (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 5 p.m.):

1. WINNING … OVERRATED

At least for the Galaxy it is. For Seattle? Winning is a must.

Think of the opener in the two-game, total-goals series not as a 90-minute game but, rather, as the first half in a 180-minute game. The final score is all that matters, and the first leg is all about positioning for next Sunday's second leg at Home Depot Center.

That doesn't mean the Galaxy doesn't want nor won't be aiming for a win -- but a draw in the first leg is victory, and even a one-goal defeat isn't catastrophic.

“The pressure's on Seattle to get three points,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena notes. “We leave with a point, it's good. Generally in these series, the home team has to go out and try to win the first game.”

How might that affect what L.A. does? If it's, say, 1-1 in the 80th minute, there will be no need to press forward in search of a winning goal. If down, 1-0, the Galaxy aren't going to leave things too open at the back as they look for an equalizer. Other than that, not a whole lot.

“You'd like to win the game, ideally,” captain Landon Donovan says. “You don't want to go home having to score more than a goal to win [the series]. … We're not coming here to sit back and defend. We're going to play the game to win the game.”

Seattle's approach: Get a shutout.

“The object is to not give anything up at home, for sure, and to walk away with a victory,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid says. “If we can win at home, it puts pressure on them, when they go back home, to come at us.

“So the most important thing is to win. Whether that's 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 is not as important to me. For me, it's always about: Are we creating chances? Are we holding onto the ball? So if we're up, 1-0, and we're creating chances holding up the ball, there's no reason to come with an extra attacker and press the issue or anything like that.”

2. CLOSING SPACE … VITAL

These are two of the most capable attacking teams in MLS. The Galaxy has the league's No. 2 goalscorer (Edson Buddle), the No. 1 creator (Donovan) and has added dimensions with the return to fitness of David Beckham, whose ability to pick out teammates with that golden right foot can be terror for opposing defenses.

The Sounders has even more weapons, through Fredy Montero (who marshals the attack and can finish from nothing), Steve Zakuani (fastest, most skillful, most powerful and most confident winger in MLS), Sanna Nyassi (Zakuani's opposite, at his best the past two months) and Blaise Nkufo (Swiss World Cup forward: big, powerful, able to hold the ball up and combine with quicker teammates, deadly finisher).

Give either of these attacks the time and space to create, you're dead.

“I think each team's defensive structure and defensive organization will be huge,” says Sounders center back Patrick Ianni, the former UCLA star. “Both teams have players that can expose the other team's backline if they're not organized. Both teams are very good offensively. Because of that, the team that can concentrate 180 minutes and not give up anything at the back will do well.”

So much attention will be focused on the Galaxy's and Sounders' offenses, but Ianni believes it “could be a very defensive series.”

“I know we're taking precautions for Landon, Edson and Beckham -- those three guys are something we definitely have to take precautions for,” he says. “I think we'll see both teams being quite conservative most of the series and looking for opportunities [to attack].

“It'll be more of a chess match than a lot of people think.”

3. 40,000 RABID FANS … WHO CARES?

The Sounders have the best fanbase in MLS. Nobody disputes this. They averaged more than 36,000 to lead the league in attendance, almost 15,000 more than the Galaxy, which was No. 2.

They will spend the entire game on their feet, singing, chanting and thrusting their ubiquitous Sounders scarves toward the field. It's an atmosphere Beckham -- who has Seattle home games on television but never played against the Sounders at Qwest -- compares to that in England.

“It's something I'm personally looking forward to ...,” he says. “That's one of the things I think we were all exceited about when we knew we were going to be playing Seattle: The way 35,000 perople turn out week in and week out, and it's a great atmosphere. They're not going to be cheering for me and cheering for our team, but the fact that we're going to be playing in front of a passionate crowd, that's good.”

Beckham says playing in front of big crowds, “whether they're cheering for you or not, it lifts you,” and Donovan, who like Beckham will be targeted for abuse by the Sounders faithful, agrees.

“It'll be fun,” Donovan says. “It was a lot of fun last time, when we came up here [for a 4-0 romp in May], and coming out of the game in about the 80th minute, and it was dead silent. We hope to do the same.”

Arena has a different take.

“It's immaterial to me if there's 36,000 or nobody there,” he says. “We have a game to play, and if we have our concentration, we don't notice any of those people. To me, personally, it's never a factor, because I don't pay attention to that.”