After a long climb up the Major League Soccer standings, Seattle Sounders FC might have been in danger of a letdown after finally reaching the top.
Their opponent Saturday, the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy, makes that unlikely.
“The Galaxy gets their attention,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “We still have tough games left. We’ve got good games left — the Galaxy a couple of times, we’ve got New York still to go, we’ve got Timbers still to go, we’ve got Vancouver, Dallas, Colorado.”
Every remaining game on the Sounders’ schedule sends them against teams playing for the Supporters’ Shield, a conference title or playoff berth.
But there always has been something extra about the Seattle-L.A. rivalry, and especially this season when the Sounders stand ready to challenge the Galaxy point for point and star for star.
“Are their competitive feelings between the two teams? Definitely,” Schmid said Friday before the team’s flight to Los
Angeles. “Is there animosity between the two teams? No. I think there’s a lot of respect between the two teams. I think one of the reasons you see L.A. get sometimes good results against us is I think they really come in focused and motivated when they play against us — and they’re a quality team.”
Since Seattle joined the league in 2009, Los Angeles has taken the regular-season series 5-3-2 and knocked the Sounders out of the playoffs in 2010 and 2012.
“They’ve had our number on a number of occasions, and they’re a very good team,” Seattle midfielder Brad Evans said. “They know how to play on (their home) field. ... They’ve got fast outside (midfielders) and fast outside backs that push forward. Juninho is not afraid to hit a 60-, 70-yard ball and push forward. It’s an experienced team, … and one of the best in the league. So, it’s up to us to buckle down, play our game.”
In the earlier meeting this year, the Galaxy handed the Sounders their worst defeat: a 4-0 pounding at the Home Depot Center, which has since been renamed StubHub Center and will again be the scene of the Saturday rematch.
“We just got off to a bad start in that game and didn’t play well in the first half at all,” Schmid said. “I thought our second half was better, but (the first) was just unacceptable. ... We were a different team then than we are now, and we’ve got to show what kind of a team we are now.”
Since that mauling in Los Angeles, the Sounders have gone 11-4-1, including a league-high five-game winning streak they will take into this match.
That fifth win in a row came last week against Real Salt Lake. It moved Seattle to the top of MLS, making them the third team in league history to overcome a 15-point deficit to climb alone to the top of the standings.
“Beating those certain teams — and Salt Lake was one of those teams — hopefully we get over that hump and if we see them in the playoffs that’s something that we sort of put in the back of our pocket and say we’ve done it before, let’s do it again,” Evans said. “And that’s got to stay true for L.A. because this is another team that’s had our number. I’ve said it every week for the last six-seven weeks: It’s been the biggest game of the season. And again we find ourselves in another game where we can separate ourselves from the guys below us and put ourselves in a great position moving forward. Momentum is key; but it’s about not getting complacent.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (15-8-4; 49 POINTS) AT LOS ANGELES GALAXY (13-10-5; 44)
7:30 p.m., StubHub Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: NBCSN. Radio: 97.3 FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
Head to head: Los Angeles leads the regular-season series 5-3-2. The Galaxy also leads 3-1-1 at home, including a 4-0 win on May 26 in which Robbie Keane recorded a hat trick. The teams will meet again Oct. 27 in Seattle.
Notes: This is the latest in any season that the Sounders have led the Supporters’ Shield race. The Galaxy is five points behind. ... Seattle has won five straight games, the longest win streak in MLS this season. Another win Saturday would set a club record. ... The Sounders are 0-5-1 over their past six visits to the Galaxy. ... New Seattle midfielder Adam Moffat traveled with the team. So did midfielder Brad Evans (calf) and reserve goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann (knee). Emergency keeper Doug Herrick also traveled in case Hahnemann can’t go. ... L.A. coach Bruce Arena said he expects Landon Donovan (ankle) to be available. However, defender A.J. DeLaGarza (elbow) and midfielder Robbie Rogers (hamstring) are out. DeLaGarza has started every MLS game this season. ... Keane is fourth in MLS with 13 goals. Los Angeles went into the weekend also fourth in team goals (45) and assists (46). ... L.A.’s Juninho and Seattle’s Leo Gonzalez and Djimi Traore are one yellow card away from a one-game suspension for accumulation. ... The referee is Silviu Petrescu.
QUOTABLE: “Sometimes it looks almost like they’re playing a 4-2-4 with their wingers or their outside backs staying really high. But they’re a team always ... going to go after games. They’re going to try to create chances, and in that process sometimes they leave themselves open as well.” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on the Galaxy
NEXT: 6 p.m. Sept 29, vs. New York Red Bulls, CenturyLink Field.blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer