Three keys: Sounders return to MLS action to host rival Galaxy

Jul 8, 2016, 8:27 AM | Updated: 8:30 am
Clint Dempsey returns to the Sounders after scoring three goals during the Copa America tournament....
Clint Dempsey returns to the Sounders after scoring three goals during the Copa America tournament. (AP)

Fresh off a relieving draw with Toronto FC and a friendly win over West Ham United, the Sounders are back home in MLS league action against Western Conference rivals Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday.

One of Seattle’s biggest rivals since joining the league, the Galaxy tend to be a thorn in the side of the Sounders at the worst times for the club. Playoff losses hurt especially hard considering the MLS Cup discrepancy between the teams. This being one of the worst seasons in Seattle’s MLS history, it’s entirely possible that the Galaxy will come in and kick the Sounders while they’re down. But the home side will be hoping to ride the wave of positivity that it left Tuesday’s match with, and that the return of Clint Dempsey will inspire a big win in front of a disgruntled CenturyLink Field crowd.

It’s not as if the Galaxy has had a stellar 2016, but it’s certainly in a much better position than the Sounders. Los Angeles sits in fourth place in the Western Conference with a 6-3-8 record heading into this weekend. The Galaxy’s recent form is quite good too. The team hasn’t lost since June 18 against Toronto FC. Big Western Conference wins against Portland and Vancouver show that the Galaxy are out for Cascadia blood and will be hoping to make it three wins in three matches against Pacific Northwest teams.

Here are three keys to Saturday’s match, which you can hear at noon on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM (pregame coverage begins at 11:30):

The Galaxy has a very sturdy defense: The Galaxy is tied for most draws in league play this season with eight, and the team has only conceded more than two goals once – in a 3-2 loss to Montreal. Los Angeles also hasn’t lost by more than a goal all season, and it has won or drawn all the matches in which it has conceded more than a single goal. Those numbers don’t mean much individually, but altogether they paint a picture of a very defensive-minded team that knows how to grind out results. Many (myself included) thought that the loss of Omar Gonzalez would have decimated the Galaxy’s defense, but the team has been as good or better at the back this season.

LA’s stars are starting to align: As with any player who makes an exorbitant amount of money compared to his peers, the Galaxy’s most recent star signings have been put under a ton of pressure for not proving their worth to their team immediately. Steven Gerrard, a legend with storied English club Liverpool, struggled to find his place in the team early while Giovani Dos Santos only scored three goals in 11 appearances in 2015. But both are starting to find their form, and they make for a dangerous attack with Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes. Dos Santos has scored seven goals so far this season, and Gerrard is tied for second in assists with seven. The Galaxy is starting to mesh while the Sounders are struggling to stay on their feet, and Los Angeles will punish Seattle if the home side isn’t adequately prepared.

Will Dempsey’s Copa form translate to Seattle? United States men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann was widely criticized for his reliance on veteran talent in his Copa America roster last month, and many called for Dempsey to be benched heading into the tournament. But the Sounders forward silenced many of them quickly. His three goals were vital to the team’s semifinal run. His season with the Sounders so far hasn’t gone as well, and the team will be hoping that his best goal-scoring form from the Copa America will return. Jordan Morris has done more than an adequate job of taking on the brunt of the scoring burden, but he’s just a rookie and can’t be expected to do it all himself as the season wears on. Without any new signings yet, the Sounders need Dempsey to be at his best if they have any hope of making a late surge for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.

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Three keys: Sounders return to MLS action to host rival Galaxy