The Seattle Sounders host LAFC on Sunday (7:00 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM) in a clash of two Western Conference powerhouses. Here are three matchups to watch.
Raúl Ruidíaz vs. Eddie Segura
At the MLS is Back Tournament, Raúl Ruidíaz found it difficult to impose himself against LAFC, as the game state made it hard for the Peruvian to get into a rhythm. But as he showed in the 2019 Western Conference Final – and in Seattle’s 3-0 demolition of the Portland Timbers – Ruidíaz comes alive under pressure.
An in-form Ruidíaz is a nightmare for any defender. Add in the rotating cast of center backs that have played alongside Segura this season, and you can expect Seattle’s No. 9 to capitalize on any miscues or miscommunications with the poacher’s instinct he’s demonstrated across his three seasons in Rave Green.
João Paulo vs. Mark-Anthony Kaye
Make no mistake: Kaye has developed into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in Major League Soccer during his tenure with LAFC. His role in the Black & Gold’s system is more than just setting tempo on the ball and playing line-breaking passes – he’s integral to their relentless counter-pressing scheme.
Enter Designated Player João Paulo, whose quality on the ball and intelligence off it have been undeniable in his limited time in Rave Green. While LAFC is known for their intricate buildup sequences in possession, they’re equally effective in transition. In order for the Sounders to pick up three points on Sunday, JP will need to help Seattle play through LAFC’s press and show the defensive nous to deny transition opportunities he demonstrated against the Timbers.
Cristian Roldan vs. Diego Palacios
Deployed on the wing against the Timbers, Cristian Roldan will likely reprise this role against LAFC on Sunday. Seattle’s Swiss Army Knife is capable of lining up anywhere on the pitch largely because of his elite soccer IQ and unstoppable work ethic. What separates Roldan from most players in MLS is his ability identity dangerous spaces on the pitch, making direct, dangerous runs that unbalance opposing teams.
Palacios, an attacking left back, likes to stay high and wide when his team has possession, providing the width necessary for LA’s central midfielders to play between the lines. Look for Roldan to help out Kelvin Leerdam when the team is defending before quickly launching forward on counters into the space behind Palacios.