Brad Smith Carlos Vela Toyota article head 2019-04-18

LAFCvSEA: Three Matchups to Watch, presented by Toyota

The Seattle Sounders face Western Conference-leaders LAFC on Sunday (4 p.m. PT; FS1, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) for the first of two meetings in eight days. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.

Brad Smith vs. Carlos Vela

LAFC loves to overload the righthand side, establishing numerical superiorities that free Vela, who leads MLS in goals (8) and assists (5), to work his magic. Conversely, Seattle’s attacking trident of Nicolás Lodeiro, Víctor Rodríguez and Smith already have a highlight reel’s worth of combinations down the left.

Something’s got to give.

Seattle will create chances down by sending Smith forward. It’s still early in the season, but six matches is a large enough sample size to demonstrate that overloading the left flank is an effective strategy for the Rave Green. So, one of three things will happen on Sunday when Smith goes forward: (1) Vela will stay high up the pitch, leaving Steven Beitashour to fend for himself, (2) Vela will track back and help his right back, which mitigates LAFC’s greatest attacking threat or (3) a center back and/or center mid will shade across to provide cover, vacating Zone 14 for Cristian Roldan or Raúl Ruidíaz to wreak havoc.

Jordan Morris vs. Everybody

Through eight matches, LAFC have subtly been one of the most effective pressing teams in the league this season. Mix in their penchant for expansive, possession-based soccer, and Morris’ blistering pace and direct style portend a favorable matchup for Seattle. Since they first linked up in 2016, Lodeiro and Moris have formed a dynamic duo on the counter, with the Uruguayan supplying excellent through balls to release Seattle’s Homegrown attacker in transition. LAFC try to maximize every inch of the field in possession by spreading out, which will leave massive gaps for Morris to exploit.

Cristian Roldan vs. Latif Blessing

This is perhaps the most intriguing matchup to watch on Sunday. Both Roldan and Blessing have remolded themselves at the professional ranks. Roldan spent much of his youth and collegiate career as a goalscoring No. 10 before transitioning into an all-action, box-to-box role in MLS. A pacy No. 9 and occasional winger for his first two season in the league, Blessing has adapted well to his new position in the center of midfield.

In LAFC’s pressing scheme, the Ghanaian’s ability to read defensive cues and quickly close down opponents has been extremely effective, as he’s tallied 34 recoveries and 12 successful tackles in his last four starts. Dating back to preseason, Roldan’s stated goal this year has been improving his ability to set tempo with his passing. His clash with LAFC’s converted midfielder will prove a valuable litmus test.