SEATTLE — When assessing the Seattle Sounders’ chances at upsetting Los Angeles FC on Tuesday, it’s tempting to play up a potential “David vs. Goliath” matchup.
LAFC, after all, just finished almost unquestionably the greatest regular-season in MLS history. They set records for points (72) and goal differential (+44), while scoring an eye-popping 85 goals, including 34 by likely league MVP Carlos Vela. Their defense is led by Best XI centerback Walker Zimmerman; defensive midfielder Eduard Atuesta also made Best XI; and Diego Rossi is probably going to end up being sold for eight figures after scoring 28 goals over two seasons. No matter where you look in their lineup, weak spots are almost impossible to clearly identify.
For all of LAFC’s undeniable strengths, Seattle isn’t exactly awed by the big stage. The Sounders are vying for a spot in their third MLS Cup final in four years, are littered with players who have competed on the world’s biggest stage, and feel they have just as much right to be in this position as anyone else.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer knows his players are too self-aware to truly believe they’re some sort of Cinderella story.
“All coaches will tell you it’s easier being the underdog,” Schmetzer said on Friday. “That’s easy to coach. In these situations, that’s sort of old and tired. You have to come up with something else. We’ll take it as ‘OK, some people think they’ve already been anointed,’ but that’s about it.”
It feels almost like a lifetime ago, but it’s also worth remembering that when these teams met twice back in April that they were on much more even footing. The Sounders came into the first meeting riding a 5-0-1 start, just a few points behind LAFC, who had started 6-1-1.
Although LAFC scored a convincing 4-1 decision in that meeting, the Sounders were missing Raúl Ruidíaz and were giving Román Torres his first start of the season. A week later, the Sounders managed a 1-1 tie despite missing even more key contributors, having played an extra game midweek, and losing Cristian Roldan to an 18th minute red card.
The Sounders will come into Tuesday’s match as healthy as they’ve been since that blazing start.
“If we have that same intensity, the same mindset going in with a full roster with all our guys healthy, I’m excited for that test,” Roldan said. “It’s great to see that both teams are pretty much healthy and it’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for.”
Roldan admitted that LAFC is still understandably favored, if for no other reason than they’re playing at home, where they’ve gone 14-1-3 this year. LAFC are also coming off their first-ever win over the LA Galaxy, which doubled as the first postseason victory in their young franchise’s history. Maybe, just maybe, LAFC will get caught looking past the Sounders.
“If they want to let us be the underdog and them the favorite, then so be it,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “We’ll take it. Please, feel as confident as you want, don’t give us any respect. That’s amazing; that sounds great to me because I believe in our squad, I think we have good players. If they come into this game taking us lightly, they’ll be in for a treat.”