In the last three years, when LAFC plays a historic match, it always seems to be the Seattle Sounders lining up across from the Black & Gold. The two teams squared off in the first game in LAFC history (1-0 LAFC win), the first-ever match at Banc of California Stadium (1-0 LAFC win), and in the first Western Conference Final featuring the Black & Gold (3-1 Seattle win).
Monday night, they made history again, meeting in the Round of 16 of the MLS Is Back Tournament. After falling behind due to an early goal in each of their three group matches, LAFC stormed out of the gate, blitzing the Sounders early and often in the first 45 minutes. Diego Rossi added his MLS-leading sixth goal of the tournament in the 14th minute on a penalty kick, and the Black & Gold kept the pressure on all half, with Latif Blessing rocketing in a shot in the 39th minute that found the back of the net off a Sounders defender to put LAFC up 2-0 at the half.
“We started in a strong way,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “Latif [Blessing] in the middle brought a lot of energy tonight to go with the strong play of Mark [Anthony Kaye] and Eduard [Atuesta]. The third goal was hard to get.”
LAFC started off the second half continuing to pour on the attack, creating numerous opportunities for Rossi and Brian Rodríguez.
“There was some really strong play from Diego and Brian worked really hard tonight,” Bradley said. “I feels like it was a good effort. The focus was really good tonight and the reactions were at a high level.”
Seattle made things interesting on a Will Bruin goal in the 75th minute to cut the lead to 2-1, appearing like the Sounders were going to make LAFC pay for missed opportunities. But then Rossi took advantage of a Seattle miscue in the back for his league-leading seventh goal of the tournament. Seven minutes later Rodríguez ended the scoring to secure the 4-1 win and a date with Orlando City in the Quarterfinals on Friday.
“We needed to win this game,” Blessing said. “This time around, it was like payback time.”
THE REIGN OF ROSSI THE RELENTLESS
There is not much more you can say about Diego Rossi at this point. Before LAFC even left Los Angeles for Orlando, Bob Bradley commented on the 21-year-old’s superior fitness and focus. Once the games started at the MLS Is Back Tournament, it became clear to everyone else what Bradley was talking about. Rossi’s two goals vs. Seattle on Monday gives him a league-leading seven in four tournament games.
“Thankfully the goals have been coming [for me],” Rossi said. “But what’s most important is that it’s been helping the team and helping get the win. It was a great performance from the group, fought until the very end and deserved the victory.”
His seven goals in the tournament is more than every other team other than San Jose (11 goals) has scored.
“Diego has been a really good player every year,” Bradley said. “But he has grown. He’s improved. He’s worked really hard on his finishing. His ability to take balls on the move, to make runs through the defense – he is relentless.”
In addition to scoring goals in bunches and becoming the first LAFC player to score four goals in a game, Rossi has taken on more of a leadership role with MVP Carlos Vela out of action.
“We need leadership from Diego, to really step up more and have personality and hold other guys accountable,” Bradley said. “Diego has really grown to handle that kind of a role.”
VERMEER ON THE SPOT
In five total appearances for LAFC, goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer has not quite had a signature moment. The veteran of the top level of Dutch football was brought to Los Angeles to provide an experienced, calming presence, and Monday night vs. Seattle with the game on the line, Vermeer came through.
With LAFC holding onto a 2-1 lead in the 77th minute, Vermeer made a reflexive, diving shot at the near post on a blast from Raul Ruidiaz, turning back what looked to be a clear attempt to tie the match.
Five minutes after that momentum-turning play, Diego Rossi slotted in the third goal to put the game out of reach.
“It was a big save at an important time,” Bradley said. “All of a sudden, it is 2-1, and there might be a moment where you need a big play.”
Vermeer made his big play, showing fans why he starred for Ajax and had stonewalled some of the best in Europe in the Champions League.
“Kenneth came through for us,” Bradley said. “That really gives the group confidence when a goalkeeper comes through like that.”
The first 45 minutes of LAFC’s 4-1 dismantling of Seattle were impressive. The Black & Gold held the Sounders to only one shot in the first half, just the second time since the start of the 2018 season that Seattle didn’t take two shots before halftime.
It was that kind of night all the way around, as LAFC dominated the ball with 25 total shots to the Sounders 11, and the LAFC defense that had been criticized for allowing early goals throughout the tournament had a satisfying performance.
“I thought the backline in different situations was connected and handled those things well,” Bradley said. “I think when we lost balls, our reactions and our ability to control situations was the best that it has been.”