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LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders, 2014 MLS Playoffs: The league's best clash

The league's two best teams, filled with some of the league's biggest stars, and backed by some of the league's most fervent fan bases -- Galaxy/Sounders is going to be a treat.

The Seattle Sounders won the Supporters' Shield. The LA Galaxy finished second.

The Galaxy led MLS in goals scored. The Sounders were second.

The Galaxy led MLS in goal difference. The Sounders were second.

If the eight-month regular season made anything clear, it is that the league's two best teams resided in Seattle and LA. You could argue which of the two was better, but you're going to pick one of the two, and the other is right on their heels.

All season long, the league has been waiting to see the Sounders and Galaxy square off for the Western Conference crown. 180 minutes (and maybe 210, if we're lucky) in front of two wild home crowds with a spot in MLS Cup on the line. It's like a dream, and now that dream has come true.

The Sounders and Galaxy are finally going to meet, pitting the class of MLS against each other. There will be stars aplenty, with Clint Dempsey, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Obafemi Martins all in tow, and there is little separating the sides. Seattle finished a mere three points ahead of the Galaxy, a gap created on the season's final day when LA played without Keane and Omar Gonzalez.

For all intents and purposes, these teams are even. It showed in their three regular season meetings, with each team grabbing four points, and the Galaxy only barely managed a goal difference edge, outscoring the Sounders 5-4 in those contests.

All that separates these teams is the narrative. The Galaxy have been MLS's best club for years, collecting the most points in the league since 2009 -- a stretch in which they have been to MLS Cup three times, won the crown twice, captured two Supporters' Shields and advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages on three occasions. If they can capture another MLS Cup, and do so in Donovan's final season, it will be a coronation for arguably the greatest dynasty the league has ever seen.

The same can't be said for the Sounders. To be fair, the same can't be said for any other team in the league, but the pressure has always been greater in Seattle. It could be because of their unmatched fan interest, their abundance of talent or the manner in which they have gone out of the playoffs every season, but every year the Sounders are judged to have "choked" in the postseason. It's an unfair label for a team that has been one of the league's best, and it has been mitigated a fair amount by their capturing the Supporters' Shield this season, but the critics will come out if they fall to the Galaxy. "Can they get over the hump?" will chase them around for the entirety of the tie.

Are the Galaxy going to establish themselves as, without a doubt, the best dynasty in MLS history? Will the Sounders finally get to MLS Cup and shed an unfair narrative forever?

One thing is for certain: the Galaxy and Sounders are going to put on the show the league has been waiting for all season.

Team news

There is one major injury of note, but it happens to be a massive one. Osvaldo Alonso had to be subbed out of the second leg of Seattle's conference semifinal with a hamstring strain and is in a race against time to get fit for this tie. The week off did him a ton of good and he is participating in training to some extent, but the Sounders have not said whether he will play or not. The defensive midfielder is as important as any player on either team so all eyes will be on the team sheet Sunday to see if he is fit enough to play.

The Sounders' Leo Gonzalez is also banged up, but he is doing better than Alonso and it sounds as if he will be able to play.

Projected lineups

LA Galaxy: Jaime Penedo; Dan Gargan, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Robbie Rogers; Stefan Ishizaki, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Landon Donovan; Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes.

Seattle Sounders: Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez; Brad Evans, Gonzalo Pineda, Michael Azira, Lamar Neagle; Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins.

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Key questions

1. Will Osvaldo Alonso play? There is no doubt which team benefitted more from the international break. The Sounders got an extra week for Alonso to get fit and he's a toss up to play in the first leg now. Alonso is one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS and so much of what Seattle does, especially going forward, is possible because they know that they have the Cuban in the center of the pitch to cut out the counterattack or any play through the middle. Especially against a Galaxy team that likes to drop Robbie Keane deep, let Landon Donovan cut in and bring runners from deep, the Sounders are going to need excellent defensive midfield play and there's no one in the league better suited to it than Alonso.

2. Can Gyasi Zardes get going? Zardes set an MLS record for goals by a homegrown player this season, tallying 16, but the last of those goals came way back on September 28. Since then, he hasn't been able to find a ton of space and his chances have plummeted. Then, even when he has gotten looks, he's wasted them. It's tough to imagine the two best attacking teams in MLS being locked in a defensive battle and it will be on the goal scorers to create chances, then finish them. The Galaxy know Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan will get the job done, but will the rest of the crew, and Zardes in particular?

3. Is Sigi Schmid going to go for it? Even with the away goals rule in effect this season, it's not hard to see the Sounders going to LA in search of a low-scoring draw. That's doubly true after the way the Galaxy destroyed RSL last round, and triply true with Osvaldo Alonso possibly out for the match. The Sounders are going to have to account for a lot of attacking talent on LA's end, and they may counter by putting nine men behind the ball, cutting off space, taking away the counterattack that the Galaxy love and leaving Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins to make some magic happen for a goal. If they can't, so be it, but Seattle will feel great about just needing a win at home to advance with Alonso presumably closer to full fitness.

Prediction

The Galaxy would have loved to play this match last week, when they were still rolling from their win over RSL and the Sounders definitely would not have had Osvaldo Alonso. The week off evens things out a bit, not that Seattle needs much of an edge. They are the Supporters' Shield winners, after all, but with Alonso hobbled, the match in LA and Bruce Arena at the helm, the Galaxy will still come away with a 2-1 win.