SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders hosted LAFC in a Western Conference Semifinal on Sunday night. Despite creating plenty of chances, the Sounders fell 1-0 as LAFC made the most of their one decent opportunity. Denís Bouanga provided the finishing touch he’s shown time and again throughout the season in the 30th minute, bursting down the Sounders’ right side and finishing into Stefan Frei’s far corner with a virtually unsavable shot from a tight angle.
Seattle had more and better chances throughout the night, none better than Jordan Morris’ breakaway in the 4th minute. Cristian Roldan played a ball from the right wing that allowed Morris to get a touch between LA’s two centerbacks, Jesus Murillo and Giorgio Chiellini. Morris showed an impressive mix of technique and physical ability as his touch allowed him to round Murillo and then outran Chiellini to the ball with only goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau to beat, but Crépeau came up with an excellent save going against his own momentum to reach back and stop the chipped attempt.
The first half was all Sounders until Bouanga’s goal. The play that led to the goal started as a Sounders attack, with Seattle driving towards the LA area but a ball to Morris turned instantly into an attack going the other direction, as three players touched the ball en route to the goal including the defender and Bouanga. With time and space, Bouanga simply isn’t missing a chance like that.
Seattle struggled to regain the same level of control after the goal, but came out of halftime looking much more likely to find a goal than LAFC, although that’s in no small part due to how the visitors set up to defend their lead. The team continued to produce shots, but even adding Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidíaz to the game didn’t allow the Sounders to generate high-quality chances. In the end Bouanga’s lone goal and Crépeau’s performance stood as the deciding factors on the night. Despite a strong performance, the 2023 season – and the Nico Lodeiro era – come to an end with a difficult loss.
3’ – Some slick play from the Sounders as they drive down to the LAFC area where Josh Atencio fires off a shot that forces Maxime Crépeau into a diving save.
4’ – Cristian Roldan plays a great ball for Morris, who beats both centerbacks in space, but Crépeau comes up with a big save to deny his chip.
17’ – Sustained possession in the LAFC half eventually leads to an Alex Roldan cross being knocked out for the first corner of the game.
30’ – Goal. Denis Bouanga opens the scoring. A Seattle attack turns immediately into an attack for LAFC, Bouanga gets free down the left and beats Stefan Frei. 1-0 LAFC
44’ – João Paulo has a look from 30 yards out, but his shot is right at the ‘keeper who catches it easily.
60’ – The Sounders generate a dangerous moment with good ball movement to create a shot for Morris from inside the area, but a foul is called to end the play.
70’ – An excellent last-second defensive play from Alex Roldan denies Carlos Vela a clean look and puts the ball out for a corner.
76’ – Yeimar gets a look at goal as play is recycled following a free kick, but his shot is scuffed and cleared by a defender.
80’ – Alex Roldan nearly finds the breakthrough for Seattle as he lets rip from outside the box, but the GK tips it over the bar.
90’ +4 – Albert Rusnák takes a rip from outside but Crépeau gets a touch to it that sends the ball out off the crossbar for a corner.
“Have-to”s and “Can’t"s : Sports are, much of the time, frustrating and unsatisfying. When things don’t go your team’s way it’s easiest to look back at events and re-litigate, insisting that players “have to” do better here, or they “can’t let” opponents do that. Such was the case in the first half of this one, both with Crépeau’s save on Morris and Bouanga’s goal. Yes, in an ideal world Morris scores on a good opportunity and you don’t give up a goal to the most likely goal-scorer for LAFC, but there are two teams on the field and unfortunately the other team doesn’t just let you do what you want. Morris took a smart shot – a chip in that spot requires a lot of confidence, regardless of what you may think – and Crépeau came up with a great save going against his momentum to deny the goal. Bouanga scores goals, and he scores a lot of them like that. LAFC wasted absolutely no time turning a fizzled Seattle attack into an attack of their own and did well to create the space Bouanga scored from. It’s fine and reasonable to be frustrated, but there aren’t NPCs in real football.
Game-changers: Denís Bouanga is unreal. He’s an absolute monster, and as heart-breaking as it is that he ended the Sounders’ season it wasn’t especially surprising. He has 24 goals and seven assists in 34 games between the regular season and the playoffs this season. He has 37 goals across all competitions, having won both the MLS and Concacaf Champions League Golden Boots. You just about put him down in pen on the scoresheet each game, just leaving the time he’ll score blank until it happens. If you want to win silverware in this league, that’s where your best players need to be. For the Sounders, there just wasn’t anyone producing at that level in the attack. Several players had flashes, tantalizing stretches where they put defenses in hell, but this offseason the team is going to need to find one or two of those players. Lodeiro is on his way out, and Ruidíaz hasn’t been able to be on the field often enough to be that guy, and the Sounders are going to have spots to fill. They’ve consistently hit on their DP signings, but as the league changes they need to somehow find yet another level. If they don’t or can’t, we’ll have more nights like this one.
The end of the road: It would have been truly glorious – fitting and magical, even – for Lodeiro and Ruidíaz to conjure something special after entering the game in the 57th and 71st minutes, respectively. After dependably doing the seemingly impossible when they were on the field throughout their time in Seattle, after a season when they struggled to either get on the field consistently or provide those special moments, it would have been just for them to be the heroes, but that wasn’t to be. We don’t know what will happen with Ruidíaz going forward – he’s still under contract with the team – but at least for Lodeiro this was, in his own words, the end. His time in Seattle has changed the club for the better, he lifted them into the upper-echelons of MLS clubs as he helped guide the team to two MLS Cups and then emblazoned the club’s name in history as the first MLS side to win CCL. We’ve all been changed by the time he spent here, and now it’s time to change once again. This is the end of the road, the end of one specific journey, and now a new one begins. It’s going to be a big offseason, and the change is frightening and exciting.
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One stat to tell the tale
7 – Maxime Crepeau made seven saves to Stefan Frei’s one and didn't allow a goal on 2.36 xGOT.