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Sounders at LAFC: Three Questions

The 6:00 p.m. match will likely kick off a bit late as Banc of California stadium hosts its first ever sporting event.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Even with the Seattle Sounders struggling and staring up at a red line with a paltry 4 points, Fox Sports 1 will be happy with this match. Los Angeles FC is opening their home, a palace to soccer within the LA city limits. LAFC is also off to a strong start, with 12 points in six matches played.

Bob Bradley’s squad plays at a rapid pace (5th in shots attempted, 12th in total passes, both while playing only road games). They are not necessarily a strong defensive side, preferring instead to play run-and-gun with the offense performing well so far.

Seattle’s identity is still under question. Multiple matches missed due to red cards and injury mean that Brian Schmetzer has been counting on young talents early and a call back to the gritty determination that powered their historic 2016 MLS Cup run. Both teams are riding two-match unbeaten streaks.

Alicia Rodriguez from Angels on Parade answers Three Questions. The questions were exchanged between Wednesday and Friday.

SaH: The new stadium looks amazing. What’s it mean to be following a team that has its own home, rather than renting from their competition?

AoP: It means an awful lot. The former team I followed was the only one in MLS history that shared a venue with an MLS rival and never controlled their own venue, and it showed. Signage was all temporary. There were occasional peeks of the other team, the one that owned the venue, in random spots. And part of the team playing like garbage for years was that there was no real sense of home field advantage — it was like they were all road games, in a sense.

So all that stuff should be rectified with LAFC having their own home, and I expect attendance at the venue to be at sellout levels all season. But it’s also a sign that the team is serious enough about the whole venture that they’ve invested $350 million into a new stadium, and it’s a place where roots can really take and history can be built, over time.

On a personal level, I hope I see a lot more incredible soccer memories in my life. But this occasion will be one of the very best, and most emotional.

SaH: When did Bob Bradley turn into a coach that wants 4-2 games rather than 1-nil?

AoP: A reader pointed out that the wild shootouts LAFC have been playing were totally telegraphed by Bradley as soon as he signed. I’m not sure if I believe that entirely, although Bradley insisted he wanted to play exciting and “good football,” both of which are ambiguous and ultimately in the eye of the beholder.

I think a couple things are at work here. First, for as well as Bradley was known in the U.S., from his previous MLS stops and USMNT tenure, I think it’s safe to say most of Bradley’s work abroad was not watched closely here in the states. Mostly, that’s because the likes of the Norwegian top flight, Ligue 2 and most of Egypt’s games aren’t available to watch here, but people didn’t really get a sense of how Bradley’s style has evolved over time.

But I think it ultimately comes down to a kind of pragmatism. Bradley is smart and he knows his team’s strength is in attack. The defense is solid but can have off days, and the midfield is still a work in progress. Does it make sense to put 10 guys behind the ball and punt it up to Carlos Vela standing on an island? Nope. So I think Bradley would prefer to have more 5-0 wins than 5-3 victories, but as long as those are wins and not lopsided losses piling up, I think he’ll be riding the wave of his personnel.

SaH: How does the LAFC 3-4-3 work and will we see it on Sunday?

AoP: Bradley has seemed pretty wedded to rewarding what’s working so far, and that switch to a 3-4-3 is the only major tactical adjustment he’s made this season. Adding a defender and taking off an attacker provides more defensive cover, and the wingbacks can push up but seem to toggle between defending and sitting in the midfield to add numbers to the two holding mids.

Now, it’s possible he could tweak the formation after barely squeaking by in a comeback win against a 10-man side, but the problem is that given the players who have been featuring, the main tweak would be to make the defense weaker by taking a defender away and adding an attacker. I doubt that happens, frankly, so I’d expect more of the same.

Projected lineup: Tyler Miller; Laurent Ciman, Walker Zimmerman, Dejan Jakovic; Jordan Harvey, Benny Feilhaber, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Steven Beitashour; Diego Rossi, Marcos Ureña, Carlos Vela

AoP: So how’s it gone for the Sounders since they met LAFC on opening weekend?

SaH: It’s all gone wrong. The season started with three straight league matches where the Seattle Sounders were shown red. One of those resulted in a two-match suspension, too. Even counting the CCL, the record isn’t great. Seattle is 3-5-1, -2. Injuries have hit every line of play and every quality level. The list of the wounded is a team capable of challenging for an MLS Cup. The Sounders roster without them challenges for the Wooden Spoon.

Even healthy there is a need for more in the attack. The forward selection is down to Will Bruin and two midfielders who can sometimes play up top (Clint Dempsey and Lamar Neagle). If Seattle wants to challenge for the Shield they need to replace Jordan Morris by May 1. They can probably still be a playoff team without him, as long as fortune favors their forward crew.

AoP: I’ve been starting to float this in my mind and I’m wondering what you think — is this Cristian Roldan’s team now? I know it takes 11 guys and all, but he seems like the linchpin and the person who is picking up a lot of the load these days.

SaH: Not yet. Roldan the Elder won out in the Sounder at Heart 2017 rankings, but in many ways that was because of injury as much as consistency in Roldan’s performances. Cristian’s strong health, never-ending engine and ability to change games both in attack and defense is incredible. He will be a top three player in any specific game, but usually not the key to victory. Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Osvaldo Alonso are still more capable of changing a match than Cristian. Each can fade away. Each has also worn the armband more often than the 22-year-old.

Here’s the thing. Roldan belongs in that conversation now. At 22, and someone drafted out of a local college, he is a vocal leader on and off the field. His play earned him 3 caps and 4 bench appearances with the full United States National Team. His cap hit is tiny. It could be argued that there has been no better draft pick in the last three years than Roldan the Elder (Larin, Harrison, Vincent belong on the short list).

Roldan is cheaper and is clearly in love with the region. He’s chosen to call this home, and in no way is he pandering. He adores the Seattle area and while he may want to challenge himself in Europe, the place for an American 6/8/10 hybrid out in more significant leagues can be hard to find. Crisitan could wind up a millionaire if he stays with the Sounders, a one-club man, and a captain of captains.

AoP: Which player has been a surprise (good or bad) the past six weeks for Seattle?

SaH: An outsider might be surprised that Roman Torres has been bad, but that’s now an early season expectation for the Panamanian. Dempsey’s lack of scoring might be a surprise, but it’s hard to score when you are suspended. Many would expect Lodeiro to have assists and then you remember that he has no Morris, often no Dempsey and young HGPs outside of Will Bruin. The disappointments are both plentiful and completely understandable. They are also entering the phase in the season when they will perform.

The biggest surprise on the positive side is Alex Roldan. Ignore the last name and you have a high-effort winger who threads a pass decently. He may have been drafted early, due to familiarity, but Roldan the Younger is a valuable asset who can contribute across the band of three (4-2-3-1) both by pressing high and attacking the goal.

AoP: Prediction for Sunday?

SaH: They will bRuin your party.

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