TUKWILA, Wash. – LAFC are the defending MLS Champions. The only team bookmakers believe has a better chance of winning MLS Cup is FC Cincinnati. Their roster is generally considered to be one of the most talented in the league.
It might be tempting for the Seattle Sounders to position themselves as underdogs ahead of their Western Conference semifinal encounter on Nov. 26.
They have no intention of doing that.
“We’re at home, there ain’t no way we’re underdogs,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák said following Tuesday’s training session. “Yes, they’re reigning champs and they’re a very good team and they have been since they came into the league. It is a matchup that will be tough. We’re aware of what they do well, but we have quality and things we’ve been working on. I don’t feel like there is an underdog in this one.”
The Sounders weren’t perfect in their first-round series win over FC Dallas, but they did continue to build on the confidence that allowed them to finish the regular season on a nine-game unbeaten streak.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer admitted his team will have to raise its game for LAFC, while rejecting the idea he’d be looking to play any mind games about whose team is under more pressure.
“I don’t think we’re the underdog with any team,” Schmetzer said.
That’s the kind of confidence a team can afford to have when they’ve accomplished as much as this group. Virtually everyone on the roster played some role in last year’s Concacaf Champions League title run and most of them have been around long enough to have experienced the Sounders’ last MLS Cup appearance in 2020.
This is a group that has no need to concern itself with outside pressure when so much comes from within. They didn’t really celebrate the win over FC Dallas because that was exactly what they expected from themselves.
“Elsewhere getting to the playoffs and winning a series is an accomplishment already,” Rusnák said. “I don’t feel like that’s the case here. The goals are bigger. We were happy – don’t get me wrong – because it wasn’t an easy series, but I don’t think winning the first round is a reason to celebrate or go crazy. The standard is a lot higher.”
One small regret
Schmetzer seemed mostly pleased with the way the first-round series played out, but said the one thing he might have changed is starting Nicolás Lodeiro over Léo Chú in Game 2.
"After winning the first game, it might have made more sense to be more conservative,” he said.
Atencio's call-up a 'pleasant surprise'
Josh Atencio was a somewhat surprising addition to the United States' pre-Olympics camp this week, especially considering his lack of youth national team involvement since signing a first-team contract in 2020.
Schmetzer called Atencio's inclusion "a pleasant surprise" and chalked it up to the midfielder playing with more confidence.
"In the beginning of the year he was playing at a high level, and the he got the injury," Schmetzer said. "It took him a long while to pick himself out of the hole. You’re seeing the Josh that was there at the beginning of the year. He feels it. Good for him."