The possibility of playing for the MLS Cup might not be the only means of motivation for the Seattle Sounders heading into the Western Conference finals.
Feeling slightly disrespected by their opponent, the visiting Sounders begin their quest to end the Los Angeles Galaxy's reign as league champions Sunday night in the opener of this two-leg aggregate series.
Mario Martinez scored in the 81st minute Thursday to give third-seeded Seattle a 1-0 aggregate semifinal victory over Real Salt Lake. That win was the Sounders' first ever on the road in the playoffs and put them in the conference finals for the first time in the franchise's four-year history.
"We have never had this chance before," forward Fredy Montero told the Sounders' official website after assisting on the winner Thursday. "We are very excited to play against the Galaxy. We are hungry to get to the final."
That's likely not the only reason Seattle is eager for this matchup.
After Los Angeles secured its fourth straight conference final berth with a 3-1 second-leg victory over San Jose on Wednesday, the team issued a press release that mistakenly said the fourth-seeded Galaxy would face Real Salt Lake in Sunday's West final. The error was brought to the Sounders' attention prior to their match Thursday and did not sit well with the club.
"L.A. thought they were playing Salt Lake," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said after Thursday's victory. "We hate to disappoint them. That's motivation enough for us right now."
Though Los Angeles is 12-3-4 since July 8, it certainly could have its hands full in this series. Seattle won the first two meetings this season by a combined 6-0 score before losing the last one, 1-0 at The Home Depot Center on Oct. 28 - the Sounders' only defeat in their last seven league matches.
Robbie Keane assisted on Mike Magee's goal in the 83rd minute of that Galaxy win, and both keyed Thursday's victory. Keane scored twice, Magee had a goal with an assist and Landon Donovan added two assists as Los Angeles bounced back from a 1-0 loss to San Jose in last Sunday's first leg of the semifinals.
The Galaxy are trying to become the first team to repeat as MLS Cup champions since Houston in 2006-07.
"I think we have a really good team and we have a chance to prove it in the next series again," coach Bruce Arena told the team's official website.
Though Los Angeles' 25 goals since Aug. 12 are second-most in MLS, the goal it scored against Seattle last month is one of only two the Sounders have yielded in their last seven matches.
"We've been playing good defense," Schmid said. "We haven't been giving up many goals and that's important from our perspective."
Montero was second on the team with 13 goals but has been held without one in his last five matches. He and Eddie Johnson, who has a team-leading 14 goals, each scored twice against the Galaxy this season.
The Sounders are 0-3-1 on the road against Los Angeles since winning 2-0 in their first visit Aug. 15, 2009. The Galaxy posted a 3-1 aggregate victory over Seattle in the 2010 conference semifinals.
Seattle will be without defender Marc Burch, who has been suspended three games by MLS Commissioner Don Garber for using unacceptable and offensive language toward an opponent Thursday. Burch will also sit out the second leg, played in Seattle on Nov. 18, and if the Sounders advance to the MLS Cup, he will sit out the title game. If Seattle fails to advance, the suspension will carry over to the first game next season.