No one across Major League Soccer is overlooking LAFC in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, least of all the Seattle Sounders.
Sure, the Black and Gold had a down year compared to their first two in MLS, finishing seventh in the Western Conference. But they spent much of the season — a strange and challenging one on and off the pitch — without the 2019 MVP in Carlos Vela, who was sidelined with injury and in quarantine while awaiting the birth of his daughter. But Vela is back and fully recovered, and Seattle knows what to expect from its recent California rival.
“None of these guys are going to take LAFC for granted,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “This is MLS, this is crazy. Anything can happen. There’s been playoff upsets, playoff drama. It’s never, ever, ever easy. Our team is too smart to let their guard down.”
Said forward Raúl Ruidíaz: “We’re ahead in the standings, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a bad team. They have a great team, a great roster, a great coach…We are prepared to give our best. We want to [win] this title [again]. Nobody takes away the motivation and our desire to win.”
The roles of these two teams have switched from last year’s Western Conference Championship, when the Sounders went to Los Angeles and defeated heavily favorited and Supporters’ Shield- winning LAFC en route to Seattle’s second MLS Cup title. Schmetzer said he expects LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley to have his team ready to come to Lumen Field and exact revenge, but that the Sounders will remain steadfast in how they approach the match.
Ruidíaz celebrates his second goal in the Sounders’ 3-1 win over LAFC in the 2019 Western Conference Championship
“We are going to try and play the way we try and play,” said Schmetzer. “We’re going to try and impart our tactics on them.”
The Sounders enter their record 12th consecutive postseason on the heels of a historic season, in which Ruidíaz, Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris were all named to the MLS Best XI, the first time in Seattle’s MLS history that the club has had three representatives in the same year. And for a team with as much postseason experience as the Sounders have, they enter Tuesday’s match (7:30 p.m. PT; ESPN, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) expecting to show up and get the job done.
“Championships are what we strive for,” said Morris. “Making the playoffs is great, but our whole mindset as a team going into each year is that we want to win MLS Cup. Anything less is not going to be a success. Everyone who comes into the team understands that that’s the goal. Every day you’re working toward that.”
The atmosphere at Lumen Field will be different without the fans, but Morris emphasized the importance of having home-field advantage and making sure the team takes care of business in Seattle. That championship mindset to which he alluded is heightened even more come do-or-die matches, which is in part why the Sounders have had so much playoff success since 2016. Tuesday’s match is just another example to prove to the rest of the league, and themselves, that the Sounders are the reigning MLS Cup champions for a reason.
“We need to make sure we’re ready for everything,” said Schmetzer. “[Our players] are not afraid. They have confidence. They know what it takes to win.”