The most unnecessary part of Sunday’s Major League Soccer playoff game at StubHub Center is likely to be the pregame handshake. Because given their recent history, the Galaxy and Seattle Sounders really need no introductions.
“We know everything about each other,” Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said.
That may actually be a bit of an understatement: The teams have met twice in the last month, six times in the last two regular seasons and four times in the postseason.
As for the two coaches, Arena and Seattle’s Sigi Schmid first squared off as college players more than 40 years ago. “Both teams, we know each other inside out,” Galaxy striker Robbie Keane said.
Though the teams mirror one another, they really don’t like each other. And that figures to add more drama to a two-leg Western Conference championship already brimming with story lines.
The series, which will be decided on aggregate goals, will kick off in Carson, where the Galaxy is unbeaten in its last 20 games, and conclude next Sunday in Seattle, where the Sounders matched the Galaxy with a league-best 12 regular-season home wins.
Both teams have finalists for the league MVP award, the Galaxy with Keane and the Sounders with Obafemi Martins. Both teams have nominees for the league’s top defender award, the Galaxy in Omar Gonzalez and the Sounders with Chad Marshall. And Gonzalez was a World Cup teammate of Seattle’s Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin
“All the subplots are interesting,” said Schmid, a coach-of-the-year candidate. “But at the end of the day it’s two pretty consistent franchises playing off against each other. And that’s more what it’s a reflection of. Over the last six years, our two franchises have probably been the ones that have continually put out the best performance.”
It’s where the teams differ that figures to cause the most friction.
The Sounders, who play a bruising, physical game, committed more fouls than all but three MLS teams this season. The Galaxy, which prefers a possession-heavy style, ranked 18th in the 19-team league in fouls.
When they met in a home-and-home series to end the regular season, Seattle managed a win and a draw by forcing the Galaxy to play the Sounders’ way, with a combined 13 cautions, one ejection and 71 fouls marring the two games.
“We just have to worry about how we know we can play. If we do that, I think we’ll be OK,” said Keane, who combined with teammate Landon Donovan for 29 goals and 33 assists during the regular season.
Gonzalez will have to be especially disciplined. The central defender drew two cautions, earning an ejection, the last time Seattle played in Carson and he enters Sunday already carrying a yellow card from the conference semifinals. Another card and he’ll be suspended for next week’s game in Seattle.
One player Gonzalez might not have to worry about is midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders’ career record-holder in postseason games, minutes, starts and shots. He injured a hamstring in the final game of Seattle’s conference semifinal series with FC Dallas and his availability Sunday is likely to be a game-time decision.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11