The Seattle Sounders will have both the crowd and the weather on their side when they host the Galaxy in the deciding game of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference finals Sunday at a frigid CenturyLink Field (6 p.m., ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
But if there’s an advantage in advantages, that still lies with the Galaxy, entering the game with a one-goal lead on the scoreboard and wealth of playoff experience on its roster.
The two-leg playoff will be decided on aggregate goals, which is good for the Galaxy after last week’s 1-0 win in the series opener. And with away goals serving as the first tiebreaker should the teams finish even, a draw or even a 2-1 loss would be good enough to send the Galaxy to the MLS Cup final for the third time in six years.
“We don’t fear those opportunities. We feel like we’re as prepared as any team for these moments,” said Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, who is playing to extend his career as well as his team’s season after announcing in August he would retire at the end of the year.
“A lot of times outside pressure can influence the way teams play in these games,” continued Donovan, who will playing in his 40th postseason game, most among active players. “Having had many experiences like this, we feel confident we can do what we need to do.”
What they need to do, Galaxy players say, is play as if the series is scoreless. A conservative approach doesn’t suit the team’s aggressive style, so rather than sitting back to protect its 1-0 lead on Seattle’s slick and unforgiving artificial turf, the Galaxy is promising to attack.
“For us, right now it’s 0-0,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “We don’t want to just take all their pressure for 90 minutes. That’s not the way we want to play.”
Weather and injuries could affect both teams’ approach to what promises to be a bruising, physical game. The Galaxy played the first leg without defender Leonardo (hamstring), then watched midfielder Marcelo Sarvas (left leg injury) and defender A.J. DeLaGarza (left hamstring) hobble off the field in the second half. Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said the status of all three was uncertain as of Saturday night.
The Sounders, meanwhile, were without forward Lamar Neagle (personal issues) and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (hamstring) in the series opener. Neagle could return Sunday, but Alonso appears doubtful.
The weather is a bit more predictable — and it will be bad. Seattle was dusted with snow Saturday morning, and the forecast for kickoff Sunday calls for freezing temperatures and a windchill of 27 degrees. That will work to Seattle’s advantage because the Sounders have been training in inclement weather while the Galaxy worked out Friday under 80-degree skies in Carson.
And when the Galaxy showed up for Saturday’s scheduled practice at CenturyLink Field, it found the Sounders had left the field blanketed in snow.
“We don’t expect to get any favors when we visit here anymore,” Arena said.
“We always see gamesmanship. It doesn’t change.”
Also in Seattle’s favor is the fact the Galaxy hasn’t won outside StubHub Center since mid-August and will be playing before a hostile crowd that could approach 50,000.
The Galaxy will counter with a huge edge in playoff experience: It has won two of the last three MLS Cups and Seattle has never made it past the conference finals.
“We know what it takes to get there,” said MVP candidate Robbie Keane, who leads the Galaxy with 19 goals. “We’ve been there before.”