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Sounders vs Los Angeles FC: Three Questions

Seattle welcomes LAFC to MLS with the home and season opener on Sunday at 2 p.m. (ESPN).

LAFC Crest

Normally, I’d set the scene by talking about the importance of the opening match of the 10th season of Seattle Sounders FC soccer. Welcoming LAFC to the league is important. Getting a first win is important. But, I think there’s something more interesting about this match against Los Angeles FC.

It means I get to ask Alicia Rodriguez three questions again. A few years ago, she lost her soccer team. Alicia kept the Goat Parade alive covering USL and NASL in Southern California. Eventually LAFC was announced, the Goat Parade became Angels on Parade, and a community got their soccer ‘back.’

As we in Seattle were without the SuperSonics and the people of Columbus may be ready to lose the Crew, tomorrow’s match is a reminder that sometimes good things happen to good people. While I strongly desire that Alicia not yet discover victory, I’m excited that she again enters the 34-game grind of MLS as a passionate fan of a team that is not the Galaxy.

Alicia from Angels on Parade answers Three Questions for Sunday’s home match.

SaH: Who are you most excited to see in a competitive match?

AoP: The easy answer is “all of them!” since this is a brand new team, but the second easiest answer is Carlos Vela. The guy is extremely talented, and has a good track record. But he has a reputation of being flaky and not really having a ton of passion. Is that fair? We’ll see. I will say, he’s said all the right things in preseason, and he looks to be in genuinely good shape right now, so those are good signs. But LAFC have paid the big bucks, and while folks were expecting a few big stars to launch the team, Vela is the lone marquee name and he’s got a lot of pressure to score goals, be the face of the team, and help them get points. I’m very eager to see how he does.

SaH: Which of the MLS veterans will use expansion to show they still have it?

AoP: I might be way off in this, but I think Steven Beitashour is poised for a big year. I know, I know, he won a treble with Toronto FC last year, so does he really need to be spotlighted? What many people forget is that last season he suffered a freak, nearly career-ending injury when his pancreas was lacerated on a collision with another player. That he came back for the MLS Cup run is remarkable in itself, and some guys may have considered hanging it up right after that. But TFC had also started their succession plan, bringing in Nicolas Hasler when Beitashour was hurt, and making it clear to the veteran they weren’t going to re-sign him. Then, he signs a free agent deal with LAFC, and I think draft pick Tristan Blackmon has battled hard to take the starting right back spot. But Beitashour has the experience and the track record, and I think the new team and competition for the spot has energized him. I think even coming off a turbulent 2017 year that ended in considerable success, Beitashour is motivated to show he’s a quality right back in this league.

SaH: How long will it take for Bob Bradley’s system to be running as expected?

AoP: This is a great question! At the moment, the concern is exactly how many players LAFC have. They seem to have somewhere between 20 and 25, which seems weird! I totally understand wanting to avoid signing bodies just for the sake of it, but they seem to have barely enough players to fill out an 18 if there are injuries (and there are). I believe in Bradley and I think what he’s tried in preseason is sensible, but it’s honestly impossible to judge any of it since there’s possibly a full third of the roster yet to be added. Best case scenario, they get on a roll right away and make it work with some makeshift moves, and worst case, they’re woefully underprepared and will struggle all year. It’s really hard to tell from the outside what way things will go at this point.

AoP: Two years, two trips to MLS Cup for the Sounders, although last year did not end in a trophy. How do things stand for the team heading into a new season? The confidence that Seattle is known for, or some anxiety about getting to the title game for a third straight year?

SaH: Prior to the Morris injury (which we’ll talk about more in a bit), the expectations were to make a run at winning the Western Conference in the regular season with an outside shot at the Supporters’ Shield (behind a few teams in the East). After that there would be confidence in another attempt at a Cup run. Injury was the biggest concern, and one only need to look at the injured list from leg one against Santa Tecla to see why. The following players did not travel due to injury or injury concern — Osvaldo Alonso, Kelvin Leerdam, Victor Rodriguez, Roman Torres, Clint Dempsey (though healthy). Tony Alfaro started, but was nursing a hammy. The team is deep, but ideally wouldn’t be dealing with playing that depth so early in the season. Things are always better when injuries are spread throughout the season rather than a wave of them at once.

AoP: On a related note, Jordan Morris will unfortunately miss the season after tearing his ACL. Is this a huge deal for the Sounders’ hopes this year, or did his lackluster 2017 season offer a lesson in coping without him?

SaH: It’s a huge deal. The ideal circumstance this season was that Morris would be healthy rather than play through an injured ankle and deal with two hammy issues in 2017. He looked every bit the part both with the USMNT and in preseason with Seattle. Now, the Sounders will lack their only speed option of regular starting attacking players. Plus, he’s obviously capable of being a scoring threat.

They need to add someone, or at least know who they are adding in the secondary transfer window. Will Bruin and spot starts by Clint Dempsey is good enough in the short term, but a team that is interested in multiple trophies, and is contesting four of them, needs as much depth as possible.

AoP: In general, what do Seattle fans think of LAFC and LAFC fans? I’m certain it’s all really good stuff so would like to hear your thoughts of the new team in the league.

SaH: This is a complex question to answer. We totally understand not wanting to root for the Galaxy, and the mocking of Carson, but the level of support that suddenly swelled up has been amazing. I don’t understand where it came from, or how it will last. LAFC clearly caught onto something. How they maintain it will be interesting to follow. In general I hope for financial success for the dozens of owners and a team that challenges to make the playoffs every year, but ultimately just isn’t as good as Seattle.

AoP: (Bonus) Prediction for Sunday’s match?

SaH: I’m thinking 3-1 Seattle. It’s at home against a team that may not be a team yet.

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