TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders returned to the practice field Saturday afternoon for the first time since their comprehensive victory over Real Salt Lake Wednesday in the Western Conference Semifinals.
All that now stands between them and a third MLS Cup Final in four years: a trip to Los Angeles to take on the “Most Dominant Team in MLS History” in Los Angeles FC. LAFC secured their ticket to host the Western Conference Finals with a dramatic (and slightly insane) 5-3 victory over their cross-town rivals, the LA Galaxy, in a game that for once lived up to the hype.
One interesting parallel between the two sides coming into the game: LAFC had yet to beat the Galaxy coming into their meeting, having been Zlataned on several previous occasions. While there is not a singular overwhelming presence in this game akin to the Swedish legend that has continuously confounded the Sounders in this series, LAFC has had their number thus far, with three wins and one draw in the four meetings between the sides. And Carlos Vela, it must be said, has been effective against the Sounders, scoring three times this year. Thus, it is the Sounders who now look to change history, much as LAFC did against the Galaxy.
That said, coach Brian Schmetzer didn’t believe that the Sounders need to win the game to make a “statement” per se, as he believes that the chance to go to MLS Cup provides all the motivation that is necessary. “It’s a statement game in the sense that we want to go down there and undo the 4-1 [result in April],” Schmetzer said “It’s not going to be a statement that makes Bob Bradley’s career or my career or the Sounders career. There’s going to be a long history between franchises in MLS. We just want to go down there and make a statement that we’re here to play and here to win.”
Speaking of the road game specifically, the 4-1 loss against LAFC in April was a game in which not much went right for the Sounders, with Vela scoring twice — once after Harry Shipp had given the Sounders some hope scoring in the 51st minute. The Sounders weren’t able to maintain much possession, and were inaccurate with their passing. “LAFC did a really good job of re-pressing us, and we couldn’t get out of that.” Midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “I think there were a couple of goals that came out of that. Having the composure to dribble out, play out of the back, counter them where they are going to be susceptible is something we need to take advantage of and press them where we can.”
As it pertains to Vela specifically, the Sounders know they need to focus on the prohibitive MLS favorite for Player of the Year, though that is easier said than done. “Everyone knows what he’s capable of,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “He’s been hands down the best player in the league. The form he’s had, consistency he’s had, and the weapons he has regardless of whether he going to do it or not is already going to have an impact in the game.”
One piece of good news continues to be the general health of the Sounders. While Román Torres had to be subbed out of the game with a hamstring strain, it was mostly precautionary, and Torres was out at practice today participating, though off to the side. His status continues to be day-to-day. “He’ll do a little more each day, and we’ll see if we can get him ready for Tuesday,” Schmetzer said. Other than Torres and Will Bruin (ACL — out for the year), the Sounders are healthy.
The U-17 World Cup in Brazil starts today, and the US team begins their quest to capture a title Sunday, October 27 against Senegal ... The Sounders have three players on the team in Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Danny Leyva, and Ethan Dobbelaere ... All three should see significant minutes during the tournament.