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Sounders vs. LAFC, Talking Points: Out of gas

Despite being the better rested team, Sounders never caught up to LAFC’s energy.

Seattle Sounders FC v Los Angeles FC: Knockout Round - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Seattle Sounders saw their MLS is Back Tournament end in ignominious fashion, on the receiving end of a 4-1 beating by the 2019 Supporters’ Shield winners Los Angeles FC. The score was every bit as lopsided as the game, as the Sounders were unable to cope with the relentless high press from LAFC.

Making matters worse was the decision to almost exclusively play out of the back, which seemed to play right into the tactics employed by LAFC coach Bob Bradley, who moved his players up the field to press the Sounders whenever they had the ball. The strategy worked as the Sounders repeatedly turned the ball over in dangerous areas, leading to a 25-11 shot advantage for LAFC.

The loss means the Sounders will miss out on a one avenue for a Concacaf Champions’ League berth, and a cash prize. With this portion of the schedule now over, the Sounders will return back to Seattle and await the next move by MLS as they attempt to resume the 2020 season in some fashion.

Failing to brave the pressure

The LAFC high press, combined with the Sounders’ decision to play out of the back was simply not something the they could cope with over the evening for any extended period of time. The pressure especially gave Sounders fits in the first 15 minutes, culminating in a turnover which led to the first goal. Once LAFC got their reward, they continued to pressure the Sounders throughout the game, hardly looking like a team that was playing with four days’ less rest than the Sounders in the Orlando heat.

Poor play at centerback

Xavier Arreaga being available for the game had to have been a boost for the Sounders, given that he had just cleared the concussion protocol, and Yeimar Gomez Andrade was previously out for the game with a hamstring injury. As shaky as he was against the Chicago Fire, he was a big factor in the 3-1 victory in the 2019 Western Conference final against LAFC. This was simply a nightmare performance. Starting with conceding a penalty with a rash challenge in the 14th minute, Arreaga bookended his night in the 82nd minute with a turnover in the box that was ruthlessly punished by Diego Rossi, and effectively ended any chance at a comeback. In between, Shane O’Neill deflected a shot from Latif Blessing into goal off his arm, that arguably would have been a penalty had it gone wide. Finally, after moving to centerback late in the game, Gustav Svensson was stripped of the ball by Brian Rodríguez, who converted the final goal of the game. Schmetzer said after the game that as a team, the defense wasn’t good at all, but it’s hard to overstate the struggles of the centerbacks in this one.

The Sounders left side was still pretty good

Jordan Morris may not have gotten on the scoresheet, but he was dangerous throughout the night with the chances that he had. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t as effective in a game where few Sounders played well, but he took his defenders on and put in a few dangerous crosses. Nouhou was solid defensively, keeping the Sounders briefly in the game with a key interception on a 3-on-1 LAFC break. Joevin Jones deserves a special mention, as he was a revelation when he entered the game, giving the Sounders hope of a comeback with his attacking play, possession and exquisite passing. He assist on the Sounders lone goal and nearly set up a second that would have tied the score. The thought of a healthy and motivated Jones pairing with Morris in the future should give fans some hope when the season resumes.

Welcome back, Will

Several weeks before the Sounders left for Orlando, Schmetzer raved about how Will Bruin looked in training, scoring goals in scrimmages. Bruin then suffered a tibia injury and was ruled out for the group stage. Finally making his first official appearance since his ACL injury, Bruin provided a spark for the Sounders, scoring a goal to close the gap to 2-1, and nearly scoring another goal on a cross from Jones. For Bruin, it was about as well as you could have written a return to the field, save the result.

Kids get a taste

Some bright spots — aside from this loss not counting in the season standings — were the cameo appearances by Shandon Hopeau, Josh Atencio and Ethan Dobbelaere, all Sounders homegrown signings who inked deals with the team earlier this year. All three got some much needed experience in this game and turned in solid performances. Hopeau and Dobbelaere in particular had some half-chances at goal, and on another day might have tallied their first MLS goals.

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