Everything seemed to line up so serendipitously for the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.
Hosting an LAFC side playing their third match in seven days, and fifth in 15, the Rave Green welcomed a bumper crowd of 32,515 to sun-splashed Lumen Field on a bluebird afternoon on the Puget Sound. With the return of star striker Raúl Ruidíaz to the XI, Seattle were able to roll out a full-strength lineup, offering optimal conditions for an ambush of the reigning MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield holders, who’ve been the Sounders’ prime Western Conference antagonist since their debut in 2018.
Seattle even got to debut their new Bruce Lee-inspired secondary kits. Alas, the match itself lacked a knockout blow, unfolding like something more akin to a wrestling match in a phone booth.
While their intensity was palpable, the two sides’ aggressive pressing and meaty challenges chopped up the rhythm, and the good looks were spurned by sloppy finishing in a 0-0 draw that kept the home team a step behind the Black & Gold in the standings.
“No. We needed to do better at home,” said Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer flatly when asked postgame if he considered this a positive result. “We needed to take some of the half-chances, the buildup that was almost there and create more full chances. And then perhaps we would have scored the goal that would have given us all three points.”
So, no statement victory like the one ascendant FC Cincinnati seized by beating Seattle in Ohio last week. Though the Sounders narrowly edged the expected goals tally (1.4 to 1.2), LAFC came agonizingly close on two late chances and rarely looked out of sorts despite having just navigated a taxing two-legged Concacaf Champions League Round-of-16 tie with Costa Rican club Alajuelense.
The Sounders set a standard for that balancing act last season by becoming the first MLS team to win the CCL in its modern iteration, an achievement LAFC want to match or even eclipse this year by making a deep international run without suffering a domestic hangover like the Cascadians did.
No wonder head coach Steve Cherundolo sounded much more pleased than his opposite number Schmetzer, even with his team shut out for the first time in 2023.
“We nearly finished two of those attacks in the end, but we have to be happy with the point because that's all we get, and we'll move forward,” said Cherundolo postgame. “But after three games, seven points, I think we're extremely happy.
“There were 22 fantastic players on the field today. The more games we have like that in MLS, the better we're all doing. And I thought it was a fun game to watch, a very close game. We always knew it would be decided by one play or one goal and was physically quite grueling, especially for us, because of our congested schedule. But Seattle went through that last year successfully and we're trying to do the same.”
After lighting up opponents for 11 goals in their first four games, his squad showed a harder, nastier side in this one, matching Seattle’s ruggedness in midfield and sparking a few confrontations that helped referee Ismail Elfath pad his caution stats, handing out four yellow cards in each direction.
The frustration this sparked in their opponents will prompt some inquisitions at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila this week.
“Look, we've only taken one goal in four league matches, so that's OK, that's a good thing,” said Schmetzer, acknowledging that SSFC have fallen off a level from the emphatic wins of their first two matchdays. “If we defend well, we'll collect points along the way.
“Did we worry too much about the referee, something that's not in our control? Did that get us fired up? Why doesn't our soccer fire us up? The first two games were up here, and then the second two games were a drop. So how do we assess that? How do we get back to playing the way we did the first two games? Those are the questions I just asked them.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Los Angeles Football Club | March 18, 2023