Remember Sunday and the 18th minute.
That’s when talk of a rivalry between the newly-founded Los Angeles FC and the Seattle Sounders FC was solidified. A heated and controversial altercation left an already wounded Seattle side playing with 10 players for 80 minutes against the Western Conference’s best. It was an opportunity for Seattle to show its mettle instead of crumbling.
“They said, ‘Not today. It’s not going to happen for you today,'” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of his players’ message.
And it didn’t. Through mounting obstacles, Seattle (5-1-3) remained unbeaten at CenturyLink Field behind a 1-1 draw with LAFC (7-1-2).
“We wanted some revenge from last week,” said Sounders defender Brad Smith of a 4-1 defeat in Los Angeles. “It was a crazy game (but) the boys dug deep, we defended so well and it was good to get a point.”
Sounders forward Jordan Morris set the tone in the opening minute, darting past LAFC’s defense for a goal 46 seconds into the match. It was the second-fastest goal scored in club history. Clint Dempsey set the record in 2015 with a goal against San Jose in 23 seconds, also at CenturyLink Field.
LAFC appeared jolted by Seattle’s quick strike, but it created its own opportunity in the fourth minute. Forward Diego Rossi skimmed the ball across the lip of the goal to Carlos Vela for an easy, left-footed tap past Stefan Frei for the equalizer. It was Vela’s 11th goal of the season.
The tenor changed in the 18th minute when Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan won a duel with LA midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, the latter responding by pushing Roldan from behind.
Roldan rushed face-to-face with Kaye in anger, causing teammates from both sides to descend on the two. LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta appeared to try to break up a potential fight. But as he lunged between the players, Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro also was reaching in to protect Roldan from his right side. In the process of being pushed and pulled, Roldan flung his arms, hitting Atuesta in the face.
Atuesta fell to the ground and expressed agony. Hands to the face is an automatic red card in MLS. Roldan’s actions were ruled “violent conduct,” and he was sent to the locker room as the Sounders played the remainder of the match with 10 players.
“It was completely accidental,” Roldan said of his first red card as a professional. “It was just an unfortunate play. The reality was I played the ball and I’m getting rushed at and that’s it. I don’t think Kaye liked the force that I play with, the fact that I’m not necessarily targeting, but I’m playing hard defense. People may take it personal, but I’m just playing my part.
“But it can’t create chaos. It can’t lead to what happened. And I want to be completely neutral about this but it’s hard to and I don’t want to speak badly about anybody or any officials. This is an unknown territory for me … I don’t have any history of being overly aggressive or getting close to getting a red card.”
The Rave Green part of the 38,581 spectators in attendance booed Kaye every time he touched the ball, the Sounders playing as if they gained a player instead of being stripped of one.
Seattle wasn’t overmatched by LAFC’s potent offense. And the times LAFC did break past its defensive line in the second half, forward Christian Ramirez booted an open attempt inches outside the goal a foot over the net in the 48th minute while Latif Blessing, Lee Nguyen, Mohamed El-Munir and Vela had their shots blocked.
A set play due to a yellow card against Lodeiro in the 59th minute also was empty against Seattle’s defense. The Sounders laid a lot of the credit at midfielder Jordy Delem’s feet. He replaced an injured Gustav Svensson in the starting lineup.
“Some coaches try to choose a guy who can set a play from (the middle),” Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam said. “In this game, we needed somebody who could clean up and win all his duels and that’s what Jordy did.
“When you’re down a man, they (the visitors) know how to find a free guy. The only thing you can do is protect your goal. As a team, we did that very well. We forced (LAFC) to the side and let them cross the ball. They played right into our hands. Obviously they got some chances, but that’s what we wanted them to do.”
Seattle’s final significant test in the game was in second-half stoppage time. Leerdam’s play on a potential shot attempt was upgraded from a yellow to a red card after VAR review, dropping the Sounders down to nine players. It was determined a “professional foul,” Leerdam later saying it’s a tackle he’s made multiple times in his 12-year career.
LAFC lined up for what, again, looked like a sure goal from the league-leaders in scoring. Instead, Vela’s attempt flew over the net. After a few more minutes, the game was ruled over and the Sounders could finally celebrate.
The match was Seattle’s final of a three-game week. It plays at Minnesota on Saturday.
“I’m impressed by, not only the physical performance on Wednesday but the mental performance of today,” Schmetzer said.
Roldan’s absence Sunday was particularly costly because the Sounders entered the match down six players due to injuries. Svensson (hamstring), left winger Victor Rodriguez (concussion), and Nouhou (ankle) suffered their injuries in Seattle’s draw against San Jose on Wednesday.
Forward Raul Ruidiaz (heel) missed a fifth consecutive game while backup Will Bruin (hamstring) missed a third. Veteran defender Chad Marshall rounded out the injury list due to nagging knee pain.
If limited in the future, the Sounders said they’ll remember what happened after the 18th minute Sunday.
“For them to pull off this performance after a difficult moment,” Roldan said of his team. “You need adversity like this to really take off in this league. You need a moment during the season to really set the tone for the rest of the year and this could be it.”
The Sounders held a moment of silence before the game for the four victims of the construction crane collapse that happened in downtown Seattle on Saturday.