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Talking points: Shooting stars

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Sounders get a massive performance from their three-headed monster.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — When last we left the Seattle Sounders and LAFC, the former was on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat that started a dip in form which lasted up until the end of the season. What made that 3-1 defeat all the more dispiriting at the time was that LAFC was far from full strength, as Carlos Vela had yet to return from his summer-long injury and playing on short rest. Additionally, LAFC suffered multiple first half injuries in the game, and the Sounders were still unable to turn that to their advantage.

And so it was on a rainy Tuesday in November at Lumen Field, with the Sounders closer to full strength, and LAFC relatively decimated by positive Covid-19 tests to four potential starters. With Brian Rodriguez, Diego Rossi, Diego Palacios and Jose Cifuentes missing the game due to positive tests, it was set up for the Sounders to advance.

They didn’t squander the opportunity.

Jumping out early and weathering significant pressure early in the second half, the Sounders put together a comprehensive performance, defeating LAFC 3-1 (again), and bouncing Bob Bradley’s team from the playoffs (again). The Sounders were up for the game — as coach Brian Schmetzer proudly noted after the game — from the start, and the high profile players showed up and showed out.

The Sounders will get to enjoy a deserved holiday break before hosting FC Dallas (again) on Dec. 1. The home side will be the prohibitive favorites in that game due to experience and the disparity in talent on display, but MLS can MLS, so the Sounders will need to be prepared for the challenge, just as they were against LAFC.

Fast start, then slight let off

LAFC seemed to sit back and absorb pressure in the early part of the match, ceding possession to the Sounders. To the Sounders’ credit, they took the possession and created a number of solid chances in the opening 20 minutes. Their endeavor was rewarded in the 18th minute, when Raul Ruidíaz sent in a fantastic cross from the wing to Jordan Morris, who saw Nicolás Lodeiro trailing the play and sent a pass back to the Uruguayan, who calmly finished a one-time shot past Pablo Sisniega for the opening goal. The lead promised to only last for about three minutes, however, as a poor decision by Nouhou not to clear the ball in the box, followed by a clumsy foul on Carlos Vela, set up LAFC to equalize. But Vela’s shockingly poor penalty kick was directed right at Stefan Frei, who easily made the save and got the Sounders out of jail.

Stars shine bright

If it’s playoff time, then it’s time for the Sounders’ stars to show up. For the first time, the Sounders had three players make the MLS Best XI, with Lodeiro and Morris doubling as finalists for MLS MVP. Although the voting has already concluded, both Morris and Lodeiro showed why they are up for the award, while Ruidíaz certainly could have been included among them as well. All three were involved in the aforementioned opening goal, with Lodeiro starting and finishing the sequence. And with their 1-0 lead hanging on by a thread, Ruidíaz provided some momentary breathing room in the 66th minute, when he pounced on a poorly cleared corner kick to lash a shot past Sisniega. In the 80th minute Morris etched his name on the scoresheet with some help from Lodeiro and Ruidiaz, calmly finishing with his left foot. The goal was especially satisfying for Morris, who missed a wide open chance in the 60th minute after a marauding run from Nouhou, whose perfectly placed pass was sent wide of goal by the winger.

Heavyweight bout

Minus the insane red cards and outfield players-turned goalkeepers, this was about as entertaining a playoff match as you’ll see, particularly in the second half. LAFC opened up on the front foot, attacking the Sounders for a solid 15 minutes to start the final 45 minutes. They were unlucky not to get a rewarded for their efforts, and then the game turned to the Sounders’ favor, as the home side created multiple scoring chances that included a couple shots off the post. The sides continued to trade punches, with the Sounders getting the second goal to take control, only for LAFC to peg a goal back to put the pressure back on. The Sounders however were able to land the knockout punch, and ensure there would be no revenge for LAFC on this day. Coach Brian Schmetzer admitted after the game that the game concerned him, given the narrative about LAFC giving the Sounders a taste of their own playoff medicine, and it was obvious based on his mood in the press conference that this is one that he’ll savor.

Alex Roldan makes his move

Nobody has had more of a glowup than Alex Roldan, entering the year without a contract and trialing at a new position just to make the team. Week by week, Roldan seems to have earned more trust from his teammates and coach, landing the starting job for a massive playoff game. Roldan isn’t just there to fill the numbers; he seems to be working his way into a starting quality MLS right back. Using his midfield dribbling and passing skills, Roldan was excellent in possession, calmly working his way out of trouble and starting attacks with his short passing. Additionally, he sent several quality chances in from the wing, and displayed a flair for the audacious, pulling off a Cryuff turn in his own penalty box, and finding Ruidiaz on a deep long ball that could have led to a goal. Defensively, he was generally solid in his one-on-one defending, though he was partially responsible for the lone LAFC goal. Will he get the start again against FC Dallas? Kelvin Leerdam was nowhere to be found on the team sheet against LAFC with an apparent hamstring injury sustained in training, so we’ll know soon enough.