TUKWILA, Wash. – How do you stop LAFC’s juggernaut attack?
Pretty much no MLS team has been able to answer that question in 2019, and the Seattle Sounders’ season now depends on it.
When the Sounders take on the Black & Gold in the Western Conference Final at Banc of California Stadium on Tuesday (10 pm ET | ESPN, TSN1/5, TVAS), they’ll be facing a team they haven’t beaten in four tries in MLS play. Seattle are 0W-3L-1D against their West Coast foes dating back to their debut matchup in the first game of 2018, including a 4-1 blowout the last time they met in LA, on April 21.
Defensive midfielder Cristian Roldan will be one of the Sounders tasked with trying to turn that around come Tuesday. Asked after training on Saturday how to go about neutralizing LAFC’s high-tempo offense, which has left opponents scrambling in its wake all year, Roldan offered up what he sees as the tactical keys.
“Number one, when you feel as though your team is going to lose the ball, be well aware of that situation and find your closest guy and try and stop the counter in that way,” Roldan said. “The re-press has to be on and it has to be set, or else they’re going to hurt you really bad. So, being smart defensively in that way. When you’re about to lose the ball, just be aware of your surroundings and stop the counterattack in that way, win second balls.
“But also, just be sound defensively. Get numbers back. We know it’s going to be a difficult match and when we commit numbers [forward], we’ve got to commit numbers back as well.”
On a simpler level, Roldan said that watching LAFC’s semifinal matchup with the LA Galaxy should give the Sounders hope that they can keep up on Tuesday, even if they concede a couple goals.
LAFC prevailed in that El Trafico derby 5-3 in another ruthless attacking display, but also served up a trio of goals in a frantic back-and-forth shootout that featured very little defending on either side. With the Sounders’ attack in good form during the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs thus far, Roldan said he thinks his team is up for a similar type of chaotic goal-fest, if it comes to it.
“LAFC is always good in the attack, they have lethal, lethal weapons on their team and they’re able to score in many ways,” Roldan said. “Now, they also gave up three goals. We can hit them as hard as they hit us. It’s going to be a battle, but both teams – the Galaxy and LAFC – have flaws just like ourselves. It’s about who makes the least amount of mistakes.
“LAFC has done a lot this year and we’re here to stop them from accomplishing more, and hopefully we can do that,” he added. “In that sense, we have to be at our best and play this game as if it’s the final. We have some motivation going into the game and I think it has more so that our previous games [against them] haven’t gone our way.”
While the 4-1 defeat in April might seem like an ominous omen for Seattle, there’s also health to consider. Most notably, Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz didn’t play in either match against LAFC this year due to a heel contusion, but is full go ahead of Tuesday’s contest. Seattle also did manage a 1-1 draw in the matchup between the sides at CenturyLink Field on April 28, despite Roldan receiving a first-half red card that left the Sounders playing down a man for over 70 minutes.
All of that might not matter when it comes to facing an LAFC squad who have been consistently overwhelming opponents all year. But whatever happens on Tuesday, Roldan said he’s simply glad that Seattle will at least get an opportunity to try their luck at full strength.
“If we have that same intensity, that same mindset going into the game with a full-strength roster, with all our guys healthy and ready to rock, I’m excited for that test, for that battle,” Roldan said. “It’s great to see both teams are pretty much healthy. It’s going to be the matchup that we’ve all been waiting for.”