Seattle Sounders 3-1 LAFC
MLS Cup Playoffs
November 24, 2020
The most difficult season in the three-year history of LAFC came to an end Tuesday on a cold, rainy night in Seattle. A season that started with so much promise in March was finally derailed by a punishing Sounders attack that the short-handed Black & Gold had no answers for.
Missing four starters vs. the Sounders, including MLS leading goalscorer and 2020 Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi, as well as Brian Rodríguez, Diego Palacios, and José Cifuentes due to positive COVID-19 tests, LAFC was not able to overcome yet another hurdle in this tumultuous season.
“Obviously getting knocked out of the playoffs is a hard one,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “In this start/stop season we still felt coming into the end of the year, that guys were training in a good way.”
Nico Lodeiro got the scoring started early for Seattle in the 18th minute as the Sounders took control of the early part of the game.
“I didn’t think we started the game tonight very well,” Bradley said. “We were second to a lot of balls. After the goal, I thought the response got better.”
LAFC seemed to poised to respond just a minute after the Seattle goal when Carlos Vela drew a penalty kick with a chance to equalize. The usually-reliable Vela fired a shot straight down the middle to Stefan Frei, who was able to catch it, denting any hopes of tying the match in the first half.
After second half adjustments, LAFC started the final 45 minutes strong but they couldn’t take advantage of several opportunities.
“We made a change at the half to see if getting Carlos in the middle also could get him a going a little bit – create some more chances for him,” Bradley said. “I thought we started the second half also pretty well.”
But then Seattle extended their lead to 2-0 off a goal from Raul Ruidiaz in the 66th minute coming directly off a corner kick.
“The second goal for them comes off of a second-chance corner, again something that has hurt us this year,” Bradley said.
The Black & Gold cut into the lead when Eduard Atuesta connected on a beautiful looping pass form Vela and directed it into the net to make it 2-1 in the 77th minute.
“After going to 2-1, we just did a poor job,” Bradley said. “At 2-1, there is a real chance now where we can push and try to get an equalizer and push the game into extra time. But then very quickly we lose a ball in transition. We don’t handle it well and they do a good job of holding their run, and I don’t think we run hard enough to make a play to keep it at 2-1.”
It was Jordan Morris who put the game out of reach three minutes later, slotting a shot past LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega.
“We needed to be organized defensively,” LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said. “I think Seattle understood that we are a team that likes to high-press, so they tried to exploit us out wide. We tried to stifle their play a little bit going forward. Obviously, we raised our intensity when Seattle got a couple of goals to really push the game. We tried to come in here and be organized, but Seattle got the better of us.”
CARLOS FROM THE SPOT
In the last three seasons in Major League Soccer, Carlos Vela has been the most explosive scorer the league has seen – scoring 52 goals in 61 games. Vela has also been lethal from the penalty spot in his time in L.A., and when he was fouled by Nouhou Tolo in the 19th minute against the Sounders, the LAFC captain stepped to the spot looking to level the playoff game.
But it was not to be, as Vela lofted a shot down the middle that Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei read perfectly and was able to catch on his line.
“Carlos was angry with himself,” Bradley said. “Even at halftime, he was still committed to the second half and committed to getting a goal so that we could get back into the game.”
Vela did respond, assisting Eduard Atuesta on LAFC’s only goal of the game, but his miss to tie up the game seemed to set the tone for LAFC the rest of the half.
“He’s a competitor,” Bradley said about Vela. “He has come through many nights for us. I know he was disappointed with that opportunity in the first half. That is something that for him is normally automatic.”
SEARCH FOR CONSISTENCY CONTINUES
En route to winning the Supporters Shield in 2019 with the most points in MLS history, LAFC proved to be one of the most consistently dominating clubs the league had ever seen. In the stop and start of the strange 2020 season, the Black & Gold were never able to maintain that momentum, putting together several stretches of high-level football that were unfortunately marred by too many goals off set pieces and other defensive miscues.
“I said at the beginning that the number one thing this year is I think we haven't been is consistent enough,” Bradley said. “We've had moments when I think we've played good football, but we still have hurt ourselves.”
Bradley and the LAFC players have been adamant that the difficulties of the year – dealing with the different phases of the season, the injuries and absences and lack of training time are no excuse for the inconsistencies that led to defeat.
“We’ve hurt ourselves with not always finishing advantages in the best way,” Bradley said. “We've hurt ourselves giving up certain kind of goals, second phase set piece goals hurt us this year. Then we have had other moments that just were some defensive errors. But it goes together. It's all part of a package when you step on a field in terms of how you play.”
With the Concacaf Champions League still to play on the horizon, Bradley is looking inward to find improvement.
“When all is said and done, I take the responsibility,” Bradley said. “The development of our team, the improvement of our team and the ability to get to the next level – I thought in different moments maybe we were close. But so far when you look at everything this year, you would say we didn’t get to the next level.”
TORRES MAKES HISTORY
Christian Torres already has made history several times this season for LAFC. The 16-year-old became one of the first LAFC Academy products to sign with the first team earlier in the season, and he became the first Academy player to play 45+ minutes on Oct. 11. He became the youngest player to start an MLS game in 2020 on Oct. 14, and on Oct. 18 he scored his first goal – becoming the fifth-youngest player in MLS history to score a goal.
The Fontana native did it again on Tuesday in Seattle, becoming the youngest player in MLS history to start in an MLS Playoff game. Torres was dangerous at times before being subbed out in the second half.
MOVING ON TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
The MLS Cup Playoffs might be over for LAFC, but the Black & Gold still has one more chance to win a trophy in 2020. The Concacaf Champions League, which was suspended due to COVID-19 in March after LAFC defeated Mexico’s Club Leon, is set to resume on Dec. 16 in Orlando as LAFC matches up against Mexico’s Cruz Azul.
“We will regroup,” Kaye said. “We have an opportunity to win a trophy, to fight for another one, so we need to put all of our focus towards that. We’re excited because it is a real opportunity.”
The disappointment of the playoff loss to Seattle could be wiped away with a strong performance against the perennial Mexican League power.
“This is still an opportunity to continue on in that tournament, so we’ll prepare ourselves and go for it as always,” Bradley said. “We will see if we can be a little bit better.”