Andy Najar Dribbling LAFC vs POR MLS Is Back 200723 IMG

After two straight matches against fierce rivals in the MLS is Back Tournament group match play, it only seems right that the Club is set to face another familiar foe in the Round of 16 contest Monday night: the reigning MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders. The final game of Group F did not disappoint Thursday evening in Orlando, as LAFC and the Portland Timbers fought to a 2-2 draw that saw them both advance into the knockout phase of the tournament, but now it’s win or go home, a notion that rings eerily familiar for the Sounders and the Black & Gold.


The last time these two clubs met, the Sounders knocked LAFC out of the MLS Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference Finals, dashing LAFC’s hopes of continuing its stellar 2019 Supporter Shield winning campaign. However, that match is only part of the story between the two top Western Conference squads. To date, LAFC has yet to lose to the Sounders in MLS regular season play, registering an all-time record of 3-0-1. LAFC opened its first game ever at CenturyLink Field in 2018, defeating Seattle 1-0 on the Club’s first-ever goal scored by Diego Rossi, and continued its success against the Sounders by defeating them 1-0 in the first-ever match at Banc of California Stadium.


Seattle came out of the first round of MLS is Back Tournament play seeded second in Group B, after a scoreless opening match draw against the San Jose Earthquakes, a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire and then a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in their third match. The Sounders currently sit one point behind LAFC in the Western Conference regular season table with 8 points.


LAFC also ended up in the second position in Group F after the Club’s 2-2 draw against Portland in the final group stage match of the MLS is Back Tournament. The draw came after the Black & Gold came back from a halftime deficit vs. Houston in the first match of the tournament to ultimately draw 3-3, before sealing their group stage fate with a historic 6-2 victory over the crosstown rival Galaxy. LAFC currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference with 9 points overall.


SEATTLE IN DEPTH

As LAFC and the rest of MLS found out in the 2019 Playoffs, the Seattle Sounders are a very good team. The defending champions are well-rounded and have a strong ability to create consistent dangerous scoring opportunities. The Sounders are difficult to prepare for, boasting a multi-dimensional style that is less dependent on individual brilliance and sees them create chances by both whipping in crosses and playing through balls.


Defensively, the Sounders do not usually pressure the ball heavily, but they also do not concede a lot of shots from the counterattack and are among the best set piece defenders in the league.


POSSESSION DOESN’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY

Possession percentage. It is a stat that many fans now look at to determine success throughout a game. But with the Sounders, that number can be deceiving. Due to their attacking style, Seattle creates quick, quality chances consistently without necessarily focusing on controlling the ball throughout the game.


In the 2019 Western Conference Finals, LAFC controlled 69% of the possession and owned an 87% passing accuracy, but it was Seattle that put 42% of their shots on target (5-of-12) compared to 27% (4-of-15) for LAFC.  


LAFC WILL WIN IF…

The backline can make the smart, big plays in “emergency” situations”. LAFC Coach Bob Bradley has consistently said throughout the tournament that he believes his side has not allowed opponents many dangerous scoring chances, but he is not happy with the “three or four bad decisions, bad plays that seem to lead to every goal.”


Scoring has never been a problem for the Black & Gold, and they once again lead MLS with 15 total goals in 2020, but the Sounders will inevitably break through the defense and have opportunities to score on Monday. It is in these “emergency situations” the LAFC defenders will need to make the right decision and the big play.


SEATTLE CAN WIN IF…

They are clinical and convert their chances. Seattle has been creating quality chances at a high rate, second only to LAFC across the league during the tournament. If they are able find the back of the net, it will make for a difficult night for the Black & Gold.


SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT…

LAFC have found the back of the net twice on set pieces thus far in the MLS is Back tournament, first on a penalty earned by Bradley Wright-Phillips after he was brought down by Galaxy defender Perry Kitchen on a corner kick, and the second on a header off a corner by midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. Those might be hard to come by against the Sounders, who this season are the top team in the league at both defending and also on attacking set pieces, an important key in the upcoming matchup.