Warshaw: Seattle Sounders' only hope against LAFC is if they're scared


"We're not afraid of them," Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Sunday

It's the exact answer you would expect a coach to give. It's the right emotional message to a team. You can never enter a game with doubt. It's the manager's job to inspire belief and confidence.

But the Sounders should absolutely be scared of LAFC. And if they don't have their tactics reflect that fear, they've got no shot in Tuesday's Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final.

Schmetzer pointed to the notion that it's a league of parity — in a league of parity, everyone has a chance on any given day. He's right, in a general sense. But in terms of LAFC and Seattle... the former finished 16 points ahead of the latter in the regular season. That's the same margin that Paris Saint-Germain finished ahead of their closest competitor, Lille, in France last year. Is anyone talking about parity when Lille play on the road in Paris? LAFC's goal differential margin over the Sounders was one greater than Bayern Munich's to seventh place Bundesliga finisher Eintracht Frankfurt.

LAFC are miles better than the Sounders. That might be a gut punch to Sounders fans. It doesn't mean you're bad! It simply means the team you're playing just put up the best points total in league history! The first step to the Sounders winning is accepting that fact. Soccer, probably more than any other sport in America, provides room to upset a superior team.

There needs to be humility in the way you go about it. You need to know it’s not going to be fun. You need to know you are going to suffer.

Schmetzer mentioned Toronto and Minnesota as teams that have gone to Banc of California Stadium this year and gotten results. You could add the Chicago Fire, who left LA with a 0-0 draw in May, to the list. Those teams clung to dear life. Minnesota and Chicago barely crossed midfield for 90 minutes. Minnesota and Chicago got results precisely because they didn't think they could play with LAFC. TFC went up 1-0 and outplayed LAFC for 30 minutes... and then barely crossed midfield in the second half.

Those games tell us two things:

  1. It's possible to punch LAFC in the mouth early. Toronto did it; Red Bulls did it; Philly did it; the Galaxy did it in the regular season. LAFC are vulnerable to heavy pressing in the first 25 minutes. Just make sure you finish your chances when they come, because...
  2. In 32 of the 34 games this year — the only exceptions being back at Yankee Stadium in March and at Philadelphia last month in Carlos Vela's return from injury — LAFC found their feet and completely dominated the game. When that happens, you have to be ready.

If you aren't prepared for when LAFC hit their rhythm — if you think it might not happen, or if you aren't willing to completely buckle down with numbers behind the ball — you've got as much chance of winning the game as Will Ferrell does of beating Latif Blessing over 100 yards. 

It's good that the Sounders are sending signals of optimism, belief, and confidence. You should have that. But what happens to that confidence once the ball gets rolling and Eduard Atuesta has just bent an outside of the foot pass to Carlos Vela in space? At some point, you need measured solutions. 

Seattle can win this game. But first, they need to be scared. Being scared is the right reaction here. It will lead their thinking to where it needs to be for this game... not to their feet, but to their heads and then, ultimately, to their hearts.