As with most emergency situations, the advice is: don’t panic.
Yes, Sounders FC is in a desperate spot heading into its match today at CenturyLink Field. The club needs to pick up at least three goals against the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy.
But just as there is no five-run home run in baseball, there is no three-goal kick in soccer. The Sounders have 90 minutes to make up the difference, and coach Sigi Schmid has preached the patience to use every one of them.
Players and coaches agree that in an ideal world they would score an early goal, add another in the middle minutes and then take their chances down the stretch. But in an ideal world, they wouldn’t be three goals down. So, they’re resolved to deal with the chances as they come.
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“The important thing is not to go out there and panic and say, ‘Jeeze, if we don’t get a goal in the first 15-20 minutes of the game then it’s all over,’ ” Schmid said. “What’s important in the first 15-20 minutes is that we’re possessing the ball, creating chances and carrying the game forward. If we’re doing that, if a goal comes, fantastic. If a goal doesn’t come, then we have to keep plugging away.”
As most Sounders followers know by now, the club is trying to do something unprecedented: No MLS team has advanced in an aggregate-score series after losing the first game by three goals.
However, many of the players and coaches can recite their own real-life stories of improbable comebacks.
A little more than a month ago, defender Adam Johansson was with the Sweden national team when it came from four goals down for a 4-4 draw with Germany in World Cup qualifying. The tying goal came deep into stoppage time.
Looking back at his own career, Schmid cited an NCAA tournament game when his UCLA Bruins were trailing SMU 2-0 with 10 minutes to go and won 4-2; and another when the Bruins were playing with nine men, a goal down and found a way to survive.
In MLS play, Schmid remembers one of his teams trailing 4-1 on the road before rallying for four second-half goals and a 5-4 victory. Internationally, he recalled Liverpool scoring three goals in six minutes against AC Milan.
Schmid said that even players who have never been part of those kinds of team comebacks can look back at moments in their individual careers when they’ve beaten long odds.
“One of the things I told to them (this week): I don’t think (Jeff) Parke thought he was going to have a 10-year career when he was the last player drafted; I don’t think Brad Evans, when he was sitting at UC-Irvine, thought he was going to play in the under-20 World Championships. But those things happen. I don’t think Steve Zakuani, a year ago, was thinking he was going to play in the conference final, possibly. So they’ve overcome things.”
The Galaxy players don’t need to be convinced. They advanced to this round by scoring three goals on the road to come from behind against top-seeded San Jose.
“(We won’t be) parking the bus and sitting everybody behind the ball and just letting Seattle just bombard us for the whole game,” Galaxy forward Robbie Keane said. “We’ll be a little bit sensible, but as much as we can try to catch them in the way that we play, which is quick counterattack. We’re not nave; we’re not stupid enough to think by any means is this over. If any of the players do think that, then that’s when it will become a problem.”
The Sounders aren’t nave either.
As goalkeeper Michael Gspurning wrote on Twitter this week: “In Austria we would say, ‘We have no chance, but we wanna use it.’ ”
NO. 4 LOS ANGELES GALAXY AT NO. 3 SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
6 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: ESPN. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
REGULAR-SEASON LEADERS: For L.A. – goals 16, Robbie Keane; assists 14, Landon Donovan; shots 94, Keane; shots on goal 43, Keane; goals-against average, 1.33, Josh Saunders. For Seattle – G 14, Eddie Johnson; A 13, Mauro Rosales; S 126, Fredy Montero; SOG 46, Montero; GAA 0.73, Michael Gspurning.
HEAD TO HEAD: Los Angeles leads 7-3-2, including playoffs. Sounders swept at home this season: 2-0 on May 2 and 4-0 on Aug. 5. Galaxy won only previous playoff series, in the 2010 first round, and leads this series after 3-0 win last week in Carson, Calif.
NOTES: This is the deciding match of an aggregate-score series for the MLS Western Conference championship. If the aggregate score is tied after 90 minutes, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. If the tie remains, the series will be determined by penalty kicks. … Seattle has scored three goals or more five times this MLS season. … L.A. has advanced four out of five times when going into the second leg of a series with the lead. … The Galaxy leads the league in most playoff games won (37) and playoff goals scored (102). The club is the defending MLS Cup champion, and has played in the title game two of the previous four seasons. Coach Bruce Arena leads MLS with 25 career playoff victories. … Keane has four goals in these playoffs (two in each of the past two games) and is tied with Houston’s Will Bruin for postseason lead. Teammate Mike Magee has three goals. Donovan and defender Sean Franklin are tied for postseason lead with three assists. Donovan is the MLS career playoff leader with 21 goals. … The referee is Mark Geiger. … The band Presidents of the United States of America will perform at halftime. … More than 43,000 tickets have been sold, meaning this will be the largest crowd to watch an MLS playoff other than MLS Cup. Tickets remain available.
QUOTABLE: “It’s a chance to create a very historic moment for our club and for league history because we’ve built that kind of a hole. Either we do it or we don’t do it; but we feel confident that we can create chances and we can score goals. We’ve just got to finish the chances that we create and not give anything up.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid
NEXT: The series winner advances to MLS Cup on Dec. 1 against the winner of the D.C. United-Houston Dynamo series, which also resolves today.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org @donruiztnt email@example.com