When LAFC square off with the Seattle Sounders in their Round One matchup of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on Tuesday (10:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info), the roles will have changed considerably from when the clubs met in the Western Conference Championship last season.
In that 2019 matchup, it was the Sounders who came into the match as the underdogs, pulling off a 3-1 upset at Banc of California Stadium that brought LAFC's record-breaking Supporters' Shield-winning campaign to a shocking end.
For Tuesday's matchup at Seattle's newly-rebranded Lumen Field, it's safe to peg LAFC as the underdog, with an opportunity to turn the tables and pull off a road upset of their own. Going into the match as the No. 7 seed, Bob Bradley's group also know that they'll be working without several key contributors for the contest due to positive COVID-19 tests for Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi, defender Diego Palacios and midfielder Jose Cifuentes while on international duty.
Bradley also said on his Thursday conference call that while no official announcement has been made on winger Brian Rodriguez, the expectation is that the Uruguayan will also be unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols.
"What we've tried to do in this whole period is to work with the idea that the group we have every day is the group that's playing against Seattle," Bradley said. "We always knew the possibility would exist between quarantine or unfortunately positive tests that we might not have some of the guys that traveled. But I really give a big shout-out to the guys here, just the way they come in every day, you can tell how excited everybody is for this match.
"Good teams in difficult times, when things get a little bit harder, good teams have the right mentality. Good teams have leadership and I think we're one of those teams."
Even with the absences, LAFC don't have the feel of your typical underdog, and Bradley said it's not a role his team is leaning into to any significant degree.
The Black & Gold still have plenty of talent and pedigree, and Bradley said he feels as though the preparation and mentality he's seen from the group in training thus far leaves him confident in the group he has.
"We don't call it an underdog role," he said. "We always believe that when you put a group on the field that you've prepared those guys, that they're ready to step up, close down, play at a good tempo, play the kind of football that we always play. It's opportunities for players and we know that in this game we miss certain guys. We've still got to make sure that everybody's ready to go and the focus is on the team, that's the way we've worked since these guys have been gone, since the end of the regular season."
Specifically, LAFC will have the services if one of the league's most dynamic players in Carlos Vela, who missed much of the season with an MCL injury but has been working his way back into action and can change games as much as any individual player in the league when he's on his game.
"Carlos is so important for us," Bradley said. "When he's back in training, when he's on the field it makes a huge difference for our team. Mark-Anthony Kaye is also a guy that we always count on in different moments. This year as the [captain's] armband has moved around when Carlos hasn't been on the field, guys like Eduard, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey — these are guys that step up. Leadership comes from the group, from more than one guy with the exact same qualities, so the group of guys that we count on I think have set the tone. Of course when Carlos is back and on the field and doing some of the things that make him so special, that gives everybody a little of an extra boost.
"The group's mentality right now is really good," he continued. "The challenge going into the playoffs knowing that we start with Seattle, who knocked us out last year. We understand when you get to big games, how concentration and small details count for so much. You need guys to step up in these games and make a difference with their play. So the focus is just on those things. I think the response of the group, the level excitement, all those things are at a really high level right now."