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Five things we’ll be watching when Sounders visit LAFC

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Sounders need to turn things around tonight.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles FC Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

What once looked like a comfortable spot atop the Western Conference now appears to be a bit more precarious. The Seattle Sounders come into tonight’s game on a three-game winless run, tied for their longest of the season, while LAFC are unbeaten in four straight.

Here’s what we’ll be particularly interested in watching:

The João Paulo-sized hole

One of the multiple frustrating things that happened on Saturday was that João Paulo picked up another yellow card, which means he’ll be suspended for the match against LAFC. There are a couple of different options that the Sounders have at their disposal to fill the JP-sized hole in the middle of the field. The first option is they could run out the young guns with Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva at the base of the “house” formation. This could provide Seattle with a bunch of energy in the middle — something they’ve been lacking recently. The downside to this is that you lack a veteran presence when things get hairy. I think the Sounders will play one of the younger midfielders (Atencio) with Kelyn Rowe. Rowe can be the late-arriving attacker, much like he was on Saturday. — Mark

Get Lodeiro minutes

Nicolas Lodeiro is back in full training after another setback with his knee injury, and just in time to get fully fit before the playoffs start. He traveled with the team to LA and it’s expected to be available off the bench. I can’t imagine we’ll see a ton of him, but the perfect scenario would be to come on with a multiple-goal lead late in the second half. If the Sounders can control the match and get a lead, Lodeiro could see 10-15 minutes where he comes on and helps with possession. I doubt he’d be risked if the Sounders are chasing the game and needing a winner, but we’ll see. — Mark

What Chú up to?

As much as we’d love to see Léo Chú get his first start, this might not quite be the right moment. But with the Sounders playing their fourth game in 11 days, Brian Schmetzer would be smart to use some subs early. Over the last month Chú has at least shown himself to be a willing defender, even if he’s not shutting anyone down. More importantly, he’s consistently helped create offensive chances. Now’s a great time to see what he’s got, ideally with extended minutes. — Jeremiah

LAFC are still dangerous

It’s probably overstating things to say that LAFC have turned around their season, but they do seem to have pulled out of the tailspin they were in a few weeks ago, when they were on four-game run in which they claimed just a single point. LAFC are now on a four-game unbeaten run in which they’ve claimed eight points and are back within three points of a playoff spot. Leading the way is Cristian Arango, who has 12 goals in 14 games, including six in his past three. The Colombian center forward is a handful, even if you are inclined to point out five of those goals came from the penalty spot. There’s also a possibility that Carlos Vela will make his return tonight. — Jeremiah

Win out, win the west

It feels a little cruel and harsh to have to talk about this, given the Sounders have been so good for most of the season, but they’re now in real danger of not finishing at the top of the Western Conference. They have a maximum of 9 points available from their last 3 games, which means they can finish with 67 points at most. Sporting KC has four games remaining, which means they can also finish with 67 points. This is where things get pretty spicy and you’re gonna need a calculator. The tiebreakers are in this order: Wins, goal differential, goals scored, and then fewest disciplinary points. If both teams win out, they’ll both have 20 wins. The Sounders currently have a three-goal advantage on GD, but KC have scored three more goals.

Okay. Deep breath. Let me just state that I think if the Sounders win their remaining 3 games, they will finish first. Let’s do that. — Mark