The Sounders met their West Coast rivals twice last season, losing 1-0 both times. The first came courtesy of a Diego Rossi goal in the 2018 season-opener that was also LAFC’s first-ever MLS game. The second came in Los Angeles, when Laurent Ciman beat goalkeeper Stefan Frei with a knuckling free kick from distance in second-half stoppage time.
This time around, the stakes are even higher. Seattle (5-0-1) are one of only two undefeated teams still left in MLS along with the Houston Dynamo. LAFC, meanwhile, are coming off their first loss of the season – a 1-0 defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday – but are off to a dynamic start that has seen them post a gaudy 21-6 goal differential.
“I wouldn’t say payback,” Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson said this week. “But you want to show them that we are the better team. We want to show them that we are stronger than they are, that we have more quality players than they have. So, it’s more about showing that and showing us and our fans and the entire MLS that we are stronger than them.”
The Sounders know they’ll have to contend with a rowdy road environment on Sunday, as Banc of California Stadium has established itself as one of the more challenging venues for visitors in MLS.
Svensson said he and his teammates like it that way, though, being used to playing in their own fortress of CenturyLink Field, where Seattle are currently a perfect 4-0-0. Throw in the fact that LAFC look like an early-season juggernaut, and Svensson said he hopes the environment and the quality of the opposition will bring out the best in his team.
“I’d rather have it that way than play in a stadium that’s almost empty,” Svensson said. “It makes a better game, it makes every tackle, every duel count more. You want to make it as good a game as possible. So I’d rather have it that way and beat them at their home. It’d be a huge thing for us.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, who noted that last year's encounters were extremely competitive, with Ciman’s late goal in particular coming on a shot that Frei typically saves.
“It’s a great stadium,” Schmetzer said. “They have a bunch of famous owners. Their coach is famous. They have some really good players. It is going to be a star-studded event for all you guys in the media.
“If you look at the two games, the home game was 1-0 and Rossi scored a good goal,” he added. “We were a little dinged up, we had [Concacaf] Champions League stuff, so credit to them to come away and win their first-ever game. But the game down there, I thought we played them pretty even and it was only a last-minute shot from distance that [Frei] normally handles fairly well that was the storyline of that game. I thought that game we matched up with them pretty good.”