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November 23, 2014 at 8:56 AM

What to watch for: Sounders FC vs. L.A. Galaxy, Western Conference final Leg 1

The Seattle Sounders and L.A. Galaxy kick off the Western Conference finals on Sunday afternoon with the first leg at the StubHub Center.

Here’s what to watch for.

Last time out: Sounders 2, Galaxy 0 on Oct. 25 at CenturyLink – Marco Pappa struck twice in the final five minutes plus stoppage time as Seattle lifted its first Supporters’ Shield in front of its home fans.

Battle to watch: L.A. attackers versus Seattle’s defensive shape

Lost amid the post-match euphoria of that last meeting was that the match itself wasn’t very good. The two sides combined for 40 fouls and the Sounders didn’t manage their first shot until late in the second half.

Seattle needed only a draw to clinch the regular season title and played cautiously, forcing L.A. to take the initiative.

With this Western Conference final series echoing the home-and-home that closed the regular season – the second-and-decisive leg coming at CenturyLink – similar tactics could be used on Sunday.

“If it goes the same way, I’ll be very happy,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’d be very happy with a draw down there and coming back and winning at home.”

That puts the onus on his defense to keep the Galaxy at bay.

The Sounders back line has been solid in recent weeks, allowing only a penalty over two legs of the Dallas series. They’ve avoided match-changing mistakes, to be sure, but also stayed behind the ball, with DeAndre Yedlin and Leo Gonzalez curbing their runs forward.

L.A. represents a different kind of challenge, though – the way it constantly nibbles and probes around the edge of an opposing box, moving the defense from side to side in hopes of finding an opening.

“We have to play very consistently in the defense and stay very compact,” Gonzalez said. “We have to make no mistakes.”

Player to watch: Galaxy forward Robbie Keane

The MVP candidate sat out the regular-season finale in Seattle nursing an injury — but he recovered in time to dish out a hat trick of assists and net a goal himself in L.A.’s 5-0 romp over Real Salt Lake last weekend.

“It’ll be a huge difference” having him on the field for this series, Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes said.

The Galaxy attackers showcased every bit of their potency during the second leg of that conference semifinal. Seattle’s strike pairing of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, meanwhile, had its chances but couldn’t break through against Dallas.

“Against the Galaxy, you’re going to get chances and they’re going to get chances, because of the quality of offense that they have,” Schmid said. “It’s how you finish.”

How to watch: The match will be televised nationally on ESPN, but kickoff slated for 2 p.m. PST.

| More in MLS, Preview and prediction, Sounders FC


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