TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders know where they stand going into Tuesday’s Western Conference Final against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium (10 pm ET | ESPN in US; TSN1/5, TVAS in Canada) and it certainly isn’t as the odds-on favorite.
The Sounders are taking on an LAFC side that many consider to be the greatest team in MLS history – a legitimate juggernaut that just won the Supporters’ Shield easily, setting the league record for points in a single season along the way. Few are picking Seattle to pull off the road upset and go through to MLS Cup, making it quite the stark change in role for a team that was the favored home side in each of its first two playoff games.
“It’s LAFC’s record for the most points in our league,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters at a rain-soaked Starfire Sports Complex on Friday. “They’re a tremendously talented team. You saw their attacking movements [against the LA Galaxy] last night, they were great.
“But that doesn’t mean Minnesota [couldn’t] go down there and beat them, Toronto went down and there and drew 1-1,” he added. “There’s parity in MLS, so on any given day – RSL [beat them in the playoffs] last year – so, things can happen. We’re not afraid of them. We just have to make sure we’re playing at a high level to make sure we give ourselves the best chance of winning.”
The Sounders have played LAFC four times now, losing both matchups in 2018 1-0 and getting thumped 4-1 in the first 2019 bout between the sides at Banc of California Stadium back on April 21. In the subsequent matchup at CenturyLink Field on April 28, the Sounders managed to get out on the front foot thanks to an early goal from Jordan Morris, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw after conceding an equalizer and seeing midfielder Cristian Roldan get a red card in the 18th minute.
It’s that last matchup that the Sounders are hoping to draw on ahead of Tuesday’s showdown, with the knowledge that they managed to hang with LAFC and its historically dominant attack despite being down a man for the majority of the contest. Aside from that, Schmetzer said the hope is his team can lean on its big-game experience – of which it has plenty -- and get after an LAFC defense that was just dinged for three goals against the Galaxy in its semifinal matchup.
“The mental resolve to get a point out of [the second game] certainly was good,” Schmetzer said. “Our experience will certainly help us in these moments. The loss down there will help us because we’ll revisit that and learn from it. I just think that our team has the right balance of youth and some experience. And we’ll need it.
“What we learned from watching and going back and watching a couple of their other games as of late is that they are vulnerable in certain areas. So, we’ll do our homework. We’re watching the tape already, we’ll get a couple of good training days here and go down there and prepare to go and try and win,” he added.
Ultimately, while the us-against-the-world storylines might make for some good fodder, Schmetzer said he doesn’t expect to have to lean on it too much as far as the messaging to his players goes ahead of the match, with the Sounders being a veteran group that is already plenty aware of the narratives surrounding the matchup and the lofty challenge that awaits.
“All coaches will tell you it’s easier to be the underdog,” he said. “You can just say, ‘Oh, nobody expects you to win. The media expects you to lose,’ and all that hoopla, and let’s play the underdog role. That’s easy to coach. But in these situations, that’s kind of old and tired. You need to come up with something else. The guys will already feel, ‘Ok, let’s go.’ For us, we’ll take it as, ‘Ok, yeah, there might be some people that anointed LAFC, but that’ll be the extent of it.
“There’s no chip on our shoulder,” he added. “We think we can hang with them.”