The LA Galaxy head north to take on the Seattle Sounders not just leading after the first leg of their Western Conference final tie, but with a command 3-0 lead. It is an unfamiliar situation for this Galaxy team, who have made a habit of digging themselves a hole and flirting with elimination before coming back.
In the wild card round, the Galaxy were down 1-0, their chances of defending their MLS Cup title dwindling as the longer that the Vancouver Whitecaps held their lead. Still, they managed to come back and advance to the conference semifinals, where they lost the first leg at home 1-0 and looked on their way out again. Going away, down a goal to the Supporters' Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes seemed like a sure road to elimination, but LA came back once again and booked their spot in the conference final.
That makes this Western Conference final completely new for this edition of the Galaxy. Being ahead, and having to protect a lead for 90 minutes will be new. Not having their backs against the wall will be new. But trailing 3-0 isn't exactly new for the Sounders.
While Seattle played Real Salt Lake to a scoreless draw in the first leg of their conference semifinal, they were down 3-0 after a first leg just a year ago and they did quite well, too. Trailing by three goals, the Sounders returned home in last year's playoffs and almost managed an improbable comeback, scoring two goals to get within one and coming within a whisker of leveling on several occasions. Eventually, their comeback bid felt short, but they proved that 3-0 is not an insurmountable lead and certainly not in front of 40,000 of their supporters.
But Seattle has a problem this time around that they didn't have last year -- injuries. Eddie Johnson has been hurt and while he can play, and probably will play, he isn't quite 100%. That's devastating for the Sounders, who could really use their top scorer, but even bigger is the absence of Mauro Rosales.
The Argentinian is the Sounders' playmaker, cutting in a wreaking havoc on opposing defenders. And it is that movement that Seattle missed dearly in the first leg when Fredy Montero struggled to find service. Worse, he was completely without options when he did get the ball. Instead of finding Rosales and making a run to receive the ball back, Montero held the ball, and held the ball, and held the ball. He looked downright clueless, and it wasn't solely his fault. He needed help. He needed Rosales.
Unfortunately for the Sounders, it doesn't look like Rosales will play on Sunday and if he does, it will likely come off the bench. Leo Gonzalez is as unlikely to play, and his backup, Marc Burch, is suspended. That will force Zach Scott back in at left back, which the Galaxy attacked with success in the first leg.
The odds are stacked against the Sounders and for good reason. The deficit, while not insurmountable, is massive and their injuries are immense.
And all of this for Seattle is against the defending MLS Cup champions, who may not have had to play with a lead in these playoffs, but won the title last year because of their ability to protect a lead, often much slimmer than three goals.
Of course, the deficit could always get bigger for the Sounders, too. With the Galaxy's potent attack, stacked in talent and finding a groove with fluid play, fantastic skill and tremendous creativity, it feels as if they are always on the verge of scoring and just one strike can doom the Sounders. As if their task wasn't tall enough.