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What you need to know ahead of Sounders' trip to LAFC

LAFC underwent a lot of turnover during the offseason

Last Updated
4 min read

The MLS schedule makers didn't wait long to provide us with a sort of litmus test of how things stack up in the Western Conference. The Seattle Sounders and LAFC are widely considered to be the two favorites to win the conference and will face each other in their regular-season opener on Saturday. Here's what you should know ahead of the game:

LAFC's roster has changed a bit since last year

Despite setting a MLS record for most games played in a season and advancing to two finals, LAFC did not have any silverware to show for their efforts. That seems to at least partially explain why the front office engineered so much turnover.

Among the 17 players who were loaned out, left or were allowed to leave: Giorgio Chiellini (retired), Maxime Crepeau (free agent), Carlos Vela (free agent, although could still return), Kellyn Acosta (free agent), Denil Maldonado (end of loan), Diego Palacios (free agent), Mario Gonzalez (loaned out), Stipe Biuk (loaned out) and Filip Krastev (loan terminated). Five of those players started in MLS Cup.

They're still working on a few signings, but here's how they've brought in so far: Hugo Lloris (transfer from Tottenham), Eduard Atuesta (loaned from Palmeiras), Omar Campos (transfer from Santos Laguna), Tomas Angel (free transfer from Atletico Nacional) and David Martinez (transfer from Monagas).

Lloris is obviously a very experienced goalkeeper and is expected to start; Atuesta is a former LAFC start who will be one of the top midfielders in MLS; and Campos is a 21-year-old left back who is also expected to start, but the others are high-upside but still quite unproven talents. LAFC also still have two open DP spots, which suggests this roster is far from complete.

Still, this is a team that has Denis Bouanga, Cristian Olivera and plenty of other talented players. But this is definitely an opportunity for the Sounders to set a tone.

Sounders aren't quite at full strength, either

Although the Sounders seem pretty satisfied with the state of the roster, there are likely to be a few key pieces missing. Stefan Frei and João Paulo are both likely to be listed as questionable after they were in and out of training the past couple of weeks. Of the two, Frei seems to be the one more likely to get the start. Neither of them are believed to have long-term injuries.

Yeimar Gomez Andrade, another presumed starter, is more likely to miss the game. Visa issues forced him to miss the first month or so of training, and although he's been with the team since they returned to Longacres, but has exclusively been doing exercises off to the side. I'm not expecting him to start for at least another couple of weeks.

Similarly, Reed Baker-Whiting is still recovering from the hamstring injury that knocked him out of last year's regular-season finale. He had been trending toward recovery, but then suffered a setback and is also expected to miss another couple weeks or so.

The good news is that Jackson Ragen appears to be fully healed from the knee injury that kept him out of the early stages of training and Pedro de la Vega should at least be available off the bench.

Pedro de la Vega will likely make MLS debut

Speaking of de la Vega, I'd be surprised if he didn't at least make his MLS debut off the bench. He has been mostly training with the reserves in intrasquad matches and logged about 35 minutes in the last preseason game, but has looked absolutely electric whenever I've seen him.

Just as advertised, he seems to constantly be playing downhill, looking to go at goal whenever the ball is at his feet. He loves taking on defenders and isn't shy about throwing his body around. I suspect he'll quickly put himself in position to be starting games.

The obvious hope is that a player like this is what the Sounders need to start turning all those half-chances into full chances and, ultimately goals. The Sounders did a great job of possessing the ball and putting themselves in advantageous positions last year, but they often struggled to actually put the ball in the net. They've done some work this offseason to try to address that with tactics, but having an aggressive player like de la Vega should help.

Replacement refs

After union members resoundingly rejected a contract offer, PRO locked out the officials. For at least this week, that means we’ll have replacement refs. MLS has been pretty tight-lipped who, exactly, will call each game, but we can probably assume that at best the ref calling this game will be experienced but probably out of practice. More likely, it will be someone who has not previously called a first-division match and maybe not even a USL Championship match.

One stat to know

0 — The Sounders have never won a regular-season game at BMO Stadium, going 0-6-1 there since 2018. The only other city they’ve visited at least four times and never won in is Montreal, where they are 0-3-3.