SEATTLE — Well, that escalated quickly.
The Sounders used an early long-range goal — arguably against the run of play — and then a one-minute blitz to stun Los Angeles FC before seeing out a 3-1 victory in their first game at CenturyLink Field since March, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports across the country. It was an impressive — if not necessarily perfect — performance against an LAFC side that was missing two of its most important players in Carlos Vela and Edward Atuesta.
Still, even without those two stars, LAFC has more than enough firepower to contend for trophies. The Sounders however have the talent to match any team in the league, and when they’re playing like they did for parts of the second half, are probably the best team in MLS. It was a statement win and there is certainly plenty to talk about as the Sounders get ready to head to Salt Lake Wednesday.
Early goal sets tone
LAFC probably had the better of play early in the game, but had only one dangerous chance to show for it. But then that man did it again. Raul Ruidíaz was a one-man wrecking crew in the 2019 MLS Western Conference championship, but had a quiet night in the MLS is Back tournament against LAFC. Tonight Ruidiaz decided to steal the show early, taking a deflected ball from 30 yards out and smashing a left-footed shot past Kenneth Vermeer for a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute. Ruidiaz also mixed it up on defense, though that cost him near the half when a collision rendered the striker unable to continue in the second half. Schmetzer called substitution precautionary, and declared him “fine” afterward. Fortunately, if the Sounders decide to give Ruidíaz the night off against RSL, they have a more than capable replacement.
Bruin provides boost, again
Will Bruin just continues to look the part of a high-impact reserve, if not an outright starter. Bruin came in at halftime and once again changed the game with his energy and creativeness. The forward displayed a bit of attacking prowess coming in from the wing, using a clever backheel release of João Paulo, who put in a beautiful cross to Jordan Morris for the Sounders’ third goal. His finishing wasn’t there today (he probably could have had two goals), but still another standout performance. The Sounders have now outscored their opponents 4-1 with Bruin on the pitch in the last two games.
We gotta talk about Jordan Morris
Some advice for opposing teams: It’s best not to allow Jordan Morris to attack you from the wing, or get in behind you. Bad things tend to happen to your team. Morris had an all-around good game, but when he was able to stretch his legs, LAFC simply couldn’t handle him. Morris in a two-minute stretch gave the Sounders the breathing room they needed, rounding the LAFC keeper to coolly slot home his first goal of the game, and then coming in from the wing to finish a well-placed pass from Joao Paulo. Just normal Morris things, who has made a habit of terrorizing defense since returning from his ACL injury last year.
Direct play eventually pays off
The Sounders didn’t really get off the mat against LAFC’s high press in Orlando, and even on Sunday LAFC was reasonably effective in frustrating buildup. But the Sounders used an old-time solution to that problem: Playing it over the top to attackers, and switching the field. If nothing else, it prevented turnovers in dangerous positions on the field, and with the attacking pieces the Sounders have, sometimes it’s better to bypass the midfield and get out on the run. The approach was possibly best exemplified on Morris’ first goal with a nice ball over the top that split the LAFC defense. Coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game that direct play wasn’t necessarily the plan, but it’s a nice option to have going forward against teams that press.
Arreaga gets soft landing in return
Whether or not Shane O’Neill has won the starting job outright, Xavier Arreaga will be an important player for the Sounders this year. With the amount of fixture congestion, there will need to be squad rotation and with only three veteran centerbacks, Arreaga will be sure to see time down the stretch and likely get some starts. So it was good to see him enter the game and get some minutes. He was solid in his cameo, snuffing out a dangerous chance late that could have given LAFC at least a chance to steal a point. The game was essentially over, but as the team to the south found out Saturday, things can escalate quickly.