By JOSE M. ROMERO
Welcome to the most glamorous matchup of the MLS quarterfinals, and not just because Los Angeles is involved.
This series, it can be argued, is good enough to be an MLS Cup final. There are impact players on both sides and benches. There are veteran coaches with long histories of winning – the Galaxy's Bruce Arena and the Sounders' Sigi Schmid – and there are intriguing head-to-head matchups from one end of the pitch to the other.
Galaxy rising star defender Omar Gonzalez vs. Sounders "goleador" Fredy Montero. Landon Donovan against tireless defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. The Sounders' fleet wings, Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi, against the Galaxy's outside defenders. Edson Buddle, the Galaxy's high-scoring forward, against Seattle's center backs. And of course, the David Beckham factor.
But one team has to take an early exit.
Here is a closer look at the series:
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS
Los Angeles won the two regular-season meetings; Seattle won the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal (May 8: L.A. 4, Seattle 0; July 4: L.A. 3, Seattle 1; July 7: Seattle 2, L.A. 0)
First Leg – Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Second leg – Sun., Nov. 7, 9 p.m., ESPN
KEY MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Edson Buddle vs. Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni: Buddle, who lost the Golden Boot to San Jose's Chris Wondolowski in the final week of the season, still scored 17 goals, one of those against Seattle. His size and presence up front will be a challenge for the Sounders' Parke and Ianni. Parke will have to continue to fill the void left by imposing Sounders defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who is out for the season with injury, by being strong in the air against Buddle, and one-on-one defense will be critical because in the Sounders' system, defenders are often isolated.
Steve Zakuani vs. Sean Franklin: Very few can match Zakuani's speed from the left wing, and he is a matchup problem in every game for the opponent. Zakuani has also become better with the ball in his second season, both passing and dribbling. Franklin has the speed and athleticism to keep up with Zakuani and will make him work to find space.
Landon Donovan vs. Osvaldo Alonso: Everyone knows Donovan's penchant for scoring and creating, so marking him will be a team effort, but the man with the biggest responsibility figures to be Alonso. He's unafraid to be physical and aggressive, and is the Sounders' glue in the middle when healthy. That's been Alonso's biggest issue – injury.
For Los Angeles, Juninho, the slight midfielder from Brazil, may be small in stature (5-foot-7, 140 pounds) but he isn't afraid to mix it up. Plus, Juninho is a scoring threat and just another weapon the Galaxy can deploy. Ask Sounders' goalkeeper Kasey Keller about Juninho's ability to strike from long range – his first MLS goal was a 30-yard blast against Seattle.
For Seattle, Nate Jaqua was relegated to more of a reserve role with the arrival of N'kufo, but he can be instant offense off the bench, and his size can counteract that of the Galaxy's Gonzalez in the middle. Jaqua used to be one of Seattle's top scorers, but injury limited him this season, though when he returned, he was a major difference-maker in Seattle's U.S. Open Cup run.
This series should be a close, hard-fought matchup between two of the best teams in the league. Seattle might have been better served to drop a spot in the playoff seeding and avoid the Galaxy so early, but the Sounders are a confident bunch heading in. The Galaxy knows it can win in Seattle and has a tradition of excellence. Winning will come down to each team's defenses and which one can contain the other's scoring threats.
Who do you think will advance from this series? Cast your vote here:
How did you vote? Can you see the Galaxy bowing out in the first round? Wish this was for a conference final or MLS Cup instead?
Share your thoughts below.