Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders looks to make the save as Steven Lenhart… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
SEATTLE — It's unlikely anyone on the Galaxy roster will go into Sunday's Major League Soccer playoff game under more pressure than goalkeeper Josh Saunders. That's because, for the first time this season, the Galaxy will take the field not with a lead to earn but with one to protect.
The Western Conference final is a two-game series decided by total goals, and because the Galaxy beat the Sounders, 3-0, in last week's opener, it will enter Sunday's rematch with a three-goal advantage. And though it will be up to Saunders to make sure that doesn't slip away, he insists that won't affect the way he plays.
"No change at all," said Saunders, who has given up three goals in his last five games. "You have to approach the game the same way you approach any other game. You can't get away from that."
There is one thing that makes this game different, however —- the stakes. If Saunders and the Galaxy hang on to any part of their lead, they advance to the MLS Cup championship for the third time in four seasons.
And if Houston can hold on to its two-goal edge over D.C. United in the Eastern Conference finals, the defending champion Galaxy, by virtue of a better regular-season record, would play host to the title game, becoming the first team in league history to play consecutive MLS Cups on its home turf.
Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena cautioned there's a lot of work to be done to make that happen.
"Anything's possible," he said. "Seattle can make up a differential. D.C. can. We would like to play in the MLS Cup final. but we're not really worried about that. We want to focus on this Sunday and try to advance."
One way to do that is to follow Saunders' advice and play this game the way the Galaxy has played every other, by pushing forward aggressively rather than lying back to protect the lead.
In last year's conference semifinals Real Salt Lake was in the same situation the Galaxy finds itself in now, holding a 3-0 lead heading into the second leg in Seattle. Salt Lake chose to go conservative and wound up giving up two second-half goals, getting outshot 17-4 and narrowly escaping with the series victory.
The Galaxy pledges not to make the same mistake.
"Our intention is to go there and actually win the game," captain Landon Donovan said. "I'm not going there to defend. We want to advance. We still want to attack."
Striker Robbie Keane, who scored twice in each of the Galaxy's last two games, agreed.
"We're not going there to pack the box and keep everyone behind the ball and letting them bombard us for the whole game," said Keane, no fan of Seattle's artificial turf, which failed to yield a Galaxy goal in two regular-season losses. "As much as we can, we need to try to catch them in the way that we play, which is quick counterattacks."
Whether Donovan does any attacking will be a game-time decision since he came out of last Sunday's match with a hamstring injury that has prevented him from training. Also listed as questionable is forward Edson Buddle (left foot) and midfielder Juninho (right Achilles'), while some players, including midfielder David Beckham, have been slowed by flu-like symptoms.
And as if that wasn't enough, Sunday's forecast calls for wind, rain and a windchill in the low 40s. But for some that's good news.
"I love playing in the rain," Beckham said. "I hope it's cold. I hope it's wet. It's a lot easier playing in rain than it is running around in the heat."