SEATTLE – After conceding an equalizing goal and seeing midfielder Cristian Roldan get a red card within the opening 20 minutes, the Seattle Sounders needed a defensive stand for the ages in their Western Conference clash with LAFC at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
They got it, salvaging an entertaining 1-1 draw against a dynamic LAFC side that thumped them 4-1 at Banc of California Stadium just one week ago. It wasn’t pretty, requiring a cavalcade of desperation clearances, a couple of misses on golden opportunities from the visitors and an additional late red card on right back Kelvin Leerdam that forced Seattle to finish the match with nine men. But afterwards, head coach Brian Schmetzer wasn’t questioning it.
“This is pro sports, there are no moral victories. But this is about as close as it gets,” Schmetzer said. “What I’m most proud of with that group is that they all came together after a tough week. It was their third game in eight days, some of them are tired, heavy-legged.
“They actually came together as a group and formed a really strong bond amongst themselves that I know is going to help us down the road. Those types of matches are critical to have.”
Sunday’s match actually got off to an ideal start for the Sounders, after forward Jordan Morris picked off a wayward backpass and stroked home the game’s opening goal just 45 seconds into the game. But that lead proved short-lived as MVP frontrunner Carlos Vela leveled the contest just three minutes later.
Then, in the 18th minute, Seattle were dealt a crucial blow when Roldan was ejected for making contact with Eduard Atuesta’s face in the midst of a scuffle that had broken out between the sides at midfield. Referee Ted Unkel issued Roldan the straight red for what was deemed deliberate contact to the face, the first ejection of the 23-year-old midfielder’s MLS career.
“The players out there executed what we needed them to do in critical moments,” Schmetzer said of his team’s response to the red card. “The desire and determination, spread throughout the team. We had some pretty monster performances there – some big performances in that game that showed they not only have the heart and determination, but they were able to execute tactically what we wanted.”
For his part, Roldan was adamant postgame that the contact was incidental, and that his arms came up inadvertently after he was shoved by LAFC’s Marc-Anthony Kaye in the midst of the scrum.
“I get pushed, I defend myself and push him back,” Roldan said. “I get pushed again by another guy, my hands go up in there. Completely accidental. Look, I’m not a guy who puts his hands up often. I’m a guy that plays as honest as I can. I’m not here to disagree but to be honest, it was not deliberate.”
Added Schmetzer: “I’m telling you, I know Cristian better than Ted Unkel and Cristian did not deliberately [do that]. …I’m not going to get in an argument with the referees, I don’t choose to do that. But I know Cristian. Cristian didn’t do that on purpose. He is not that kind of player.”