Sounders forward Will Bruin will almost certainly take the lead role up-top Sunday in a game against the host Los Angeles Galaxy no one believes will be as easy as the last time they met.
That was five weeks ago, when the Galaxy visited CenturyLink Field and were obliterated 5-0 by a Sounders squad in the midst of winning a league record nine consecutive matches in regulation time. The Sounders saw that streak end Wednesday and now must forge ahead against a Galaxy side, run by newly installed head coach Dominic Kinnear, fighting for its playoff life.
Bruin, who played for Kinnear on some powerhouse Houston Dynamo teams earlier this decade, expects a different opponent than the shorthanded one the Sounders took apart last month.
“At this point, they’ve got nothing to lose,” he said of a Galaxy side that hasn’t won since July 29 and saw former Sounders coach Sigi Schmid resign two weeks ago with his team in disarray. “Dom (Kinnear) is coaching them now and they can always fall back on the excuse of ‘Oh, we’ve got a new coach mid-season, making a playoff run.’ So, they’re going to come out and just be in attack mode.”
For certain, the Galaxy were missing star Zlatan Ibrahimovic the last time they met, not to mention injured brothers Jonathan and Gio Dos Santos and a host of other regulars.
“Everywhere he goes, he’s scored,” Bruin said. “So, you really have to know where he’s at and be aware. He’s a special player and they’ve got a lot of weapons that can hurt us offensively.”
The decision by Swedish icon Ibrahimovic to skip playing on the artificial turf at CenturyLink Field undoubtedly contributed to the turmoil surrounding the Galaxy, winless in seven matches.
Schmid had lobbied for improved defensive additions while the Galaxy instead continued to roll the dice with their marquee signing of Ibrahimovic – largely to counter a first-year Los Angeles FC side that has been winning the intra-city marketing war between the two teams. The Galaxy now indeed have their legendary goal scorer, but at the expense of being able to keep the ball out of their own net.
The Galaxy have yielded 17 goals their last four games and given up at least five in three of them.
“Everybody wants to talk about all the goals they’ve given up and yes, they’ve given up a lot of goals and are leaky defensively,” Bruin said. “But…they’ve scored a lot of goals, too.”
The Galaxy trailed Toronto 3-0 on the road last weekend before quickly rallying to tie the game, only to lose 5-3 on two goals late in the second half. Ibrahimovic scored for L.A. in that game to become the world’s third active player with 500 goals for team and county.
Ibrahimovic leads the Western Conference with 17 goals and the Galaxy with eight assists. But though he’s signed through 2019, he declined to commit to playing for the team next season when asked about it Friday by Los Angeles media.
“I don’t know. This I have to discuss,” he said, through an interpreter, in quotes published by the Los Angeles Times. “This is not the moment to talk about that. It’s something I’ll discuss with the club. What they want, what I want. So, let’s see.”
The Galaxy, now 10-11-8 and six points out of a playoff spot, could miss the post-season a second straight year and for only the fifth time in their history. Ibrahimovic, 36, has never had a losing season since leaving Sweden in his teens and told reporters that “now, it’s like you come to a game, it feels like 50-50. Anything can happen.”
And that’s the very reason Bruin, who will start in place of injured forward Raul Ruidiaz, isn’t taking the Galaxy for granted. Despite their record win streak in the post-shootout era, the Sounders, 13-10-5 after Wedensday’s loss to Philadelphia, hold the sixth and final playoff spot with six games to go.
Their attack stalled after Ruidiaz left late in the first half with a sprained right ankle. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Ruidiaz’s injury is “not that bad” – indeed, he worked out lightly with the team ahead of Sunday’s match – and that there was a chance he’d travel to L.A.
Still, it’s doubtful Schmetzer risks overusing a less-than-perfectly-healthy goal scorer for a third match in eight days. That means his team will likely have to rebound off a streak-ending loss without one of the main players that got them winning in the first place.
And against a Galaxy side far more authentic than the B-squad the Sounders throttled last month.
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