It’s a little earlier than anyone expected it, but the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles FC were probably always destined to meet this year if for no other reason that the soccer gods demanded a rematch of last year’s playoff match. That comes tonight, only this time it’s the Sounders hosting and claiming the status of presumed favorites.
Here’s what we’ll be looking for.
Own the streak
Thanks to win over Toronto FC in last year’s MLS Cup, the Sounders tied the record for most consecutive home postseason wins at 12. The original record was one of the longest standing in the league, with D.C. United first accomplishing that feat from 1996-98. The Sounders’ version has taken a bit longer to establish, starting in 2014. They’ve been especially good during the Brian Schmetzer era, going 9-0-0 and outscoring their playoff opponents 23-7 at home. Despite not having their normal crowds behind them this year, the Sounders were again very good at home with a 7-1-2 record. - JO
Control the midfield
LAFC will be coming into this match severely shorthanded in attack with Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi missing out. But they’ll still be able to lineup a very strong midfield in their 4-3-3 formation. In the matches against LAFC where Seattle hasn’t looked at their best, it’s been because LAFC has been able to control the tempo, their press, and possession with their strong midfield. The Sounders will likely have Nico Lodeiro, João Paulo, and Cristian Roldan in the middle of the park. Those three can break LA’s press and transition Seattle into attack well if they’re on their game. - MK
Keep Vela quiet
While LAFC has a lengthy injury list, they still have the best player in the league in Carlos Vela. He’s struggled this year with injuries but he appears to be healthy. I suspect that he’ll play nominally on the right side of their attack, which means Nouhou and Shane O’Neill need to be aware of LA’s No. 10 at all times. If Seattle can keep Vela quiet, they should be able to control the match. - MK
Playoffs mean Roman Torres time
The big Panamanian personality came back to Seattle in September but has not played much at all. In fact, he’s only made 3 appearances for a total of 27 minutes for the Sounders. I don’t think Torres will start against LAFC, but I know that Seattle’s previously successful playoff runs have had big Roman moments in them. Maybe he scores a last minute winner, or maybe he’s the final sub when the Sounders are winning 12-0. Either way I’d like to see Roman show up. - MK
Reject the narrative
As you’d probably expect, LAFC are leaning pretty hard into the revenge factor. Heck, they’re so committed to the bit that they made a bunch of their fans sit through highlights of last year’s Western Conference final for ... reasons? It probably goes without saying, but the Sounders can’t get wrapped up in LAFC’s narrative. The Sounders are, indeed, the better and healthier team and are playing at home, but there’s no need to feed into LAFC’s desire to make this into something more. Focus on the job at hand, not playing into LAFC’s head games. - JO