The Los Angeles Galaxy have at times looked unlikely to repeat as MLS Cup champions, but now they seem all but certain to get a chance at another title - perhaps on their home field again.
If the Galaxy can protect a three-goal advantage on the road Sunday night against the Seattle Sounders, they will clinch a spot in the league championship match for the third time in four seasons.
They're in this dominating position after overcoming a dismal 3-8-2 start to the regular season and a second-half deficit in the single-elimination playoff opener against Vancouver.
Los Angeles has put it all together at precisely the right time, eliminating Supporters' Shield winner San Jose with a furious road rally in the second leg of that series, then putting the Sounders on the ropes with a 3-0 home victory to open the Western Conference final last Sunday.
"We had a wonderful night, but we know anything can still happen," said Robbie Keane, who scored twice for the second straight game, with Mike Magee accounting for the other two Galaxy goals in that stretch.
"So it's up to the lads, the senior players who have a lot of experience, to remind everybody that this is not over."
Landon Donovan certainly qualifies as one of those veterans, and he told the official MLS website that he's "optimistic" he can play despite suffering a right hamstring injury last weekend.
Coach Bruce Arena shared similar sentiments about both Donovan and midfielder Juninho, who left the first leg at halftime with an Achilles problem. Edson Buddle, out last Sunday with a foot injury, also could be available.
Donovan said the Galaxy have to avoid simply trying to sit on their lead, especially in a raucous stadium where the Sounders beat Los Angeles 4-0 on Aug. 5.
"We know what the game's going to look like," Donovan said. "It's very clear that if we don't do a good job of putting them back on their heels and attacking them, it can be wave after wave of attack against us. ... We don't want to fall into that."
Seattle has fallen into a huge hole after beating Real Salt Lake to get past the conference semifinals for the first time. Perhaps even more daunting than needing to score at least three goals is the Sounders' task of also silencing the Galaxy's stars.
"If we can keep Keane quiet and Donovan quiet, I think those two guys have a lot to do with their success lately, along with (David) Beckham and Mike Magee," forward Eddie Johnson said. "If we can keep those guys quiet we've got a really good chance of making this a reality."
It would help if Johnson (thigh) can play a full game after coming on in the 65th minute last weekend, and if Mauro Rosales (hamstring) can play at all after missing the first leg.
Seattle almost certainly needs a fast start.
"Obviously, in the ideal scenario you want to get a goal early," coach Sigi Schmid said. "You want to get a goal in the first third of the game, at least, then try and get one again, then really be able to push forward in the second half. That's the ideal scenario, but that doesn't always happen for you."
The winner of this series would host the MLS Cup final on Dec. 1 if Houston holds on to a 3-1 lead over D.C. United in the East. Los Angeles beat the Dynamo 1-0 at The Home Depot Center to win last year's MLS Cup.
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- Landon Donovan