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Sounders open playoff series with Galaxy

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Sounders' first 180 minutes against the Los Angeles Galaxy didn't go so well, as they were outscored 7-1.

The clubs will begin another two-game set today at Qwest Field, and these 180 minutes will determine who advances in the MLS Cup playoffs.

"Certainly, we are not overconfident going against L.A. based upon the two results that we have played," coach Sigi Schmid said, smiling at his understatement. "Sometimes I think it's better to play against a team you haven't had success against because of the motivation of your team."

And while overconfidence certainly shouldn't be the Sounders' problem, neither did players indicate any lack of confidence in the days leading up to this match.

They uniformly state they are a different team than the one that lost to the Galaxy 4-0 in Seattle on May 8, and 3-1 at Home Depot Center on July 4.

"It doesn't matter how we played against L.A. earlier in the year," goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "It matters how we play against them in these two games. That's all that matters. The mood is great, the guys are fit, I think we're ready to go. You just have to perform on the day."

The Sounders also find hope in the way the season played out for both sides. After that Independence Day meeting in Southern California, the Sounders went 10-2-3 while the Galaxy finished 7-2-6.

"I think it's a clean slate," L.A. coach Bruce Arena said. "Obviously, it's been a while since we've played, but the playoffs are different as well. It's a different type of mentality, a different approach. To me it doesn't matter if we've been successful in our previous ... encounters or not successful."

MLS quarterfinal series are determined by aggregate score over two games: home and road. That means the first game is, in effect, merely the first half of a 180-minute match. The series concludes Nov. 7 in Carson, Calif.

In their playoff debut last season, the Sounders played a scoreless first game against the Houston Dynamo at Qwest Field, then followed it with another scoreless 90 minutes in Houston. However, Brian Ching scored the lone goal of the series in extra time, ending the Sounders' inaugural season.

Despite that result, and despite Los Angeles scoring the second-most goals in MLS this season, the Sounders didn't talk about trying to pile up the goals on their home pitch. They talked about keeping the Galaxy off the scoreboard.

"We can't think too much about, 'Oh, we've got to score early,'" midfielder Steve Zakuani said. "Because if we do that you're exposed and you're giving the best player in the league - Landon Donovan - too much space, the best crosser in the world - David Beckham - too much space, and one of the best scorers in the league -- (Edson) Buddle -- too much space. And you can't do that.

"You've just got to play to zero. If you draw nil-nil like we did against Houston last year, you've got a chance away from home. So we're not trying for a nil-nil draw, but play to zero at home, finish your chances, and you'll be in good shape."

Regardless of result, this will be the Sounders' final home game of the season. Both clubs in the other Western Conference quarterfinal - Real Salt Lake and Dallas FC - had better records during the regular season and therefore would have home advantage for a single-game Western Conference final against Seattle. The MLS Cup final will be played Nov. 21 at a neutral site: BMO Field in Toronto.

"We truly want to make this a memorable night for the fans, because they've made it such a memorable season for us," Keller said. "It's not the end-all be-all. This game is only halftime. But at the same time, we'd love to go down to L.A. with a great lead and having everybody going home with a tremendous feeling."