Nearly nine months have passed, but one thing might be the same: Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer still feels “a lot better than Bob.”
Schmetzer made the comment last October after his side defeated Los Angeles FC and its coach, Bob Bradley, for Major League Soccer’s Western Conference championship. The coaches were shown via the ESPN broadcast to have a terse postmatch conversation at Banc of California Stadium.
When asked in an on-field interview by ESPN how he felt, Schmetzer replied in a quote that became a meme and popular T-shirt, “I feel a lot better than Bob.”
The Sounders went on to win the MLS Cup while LAFC has the Supporter’s Shield and a bevy of league records to show for its impressive 2019 season.
LAFC and Seattle will meet again Monday with a lot at stake, this time to advance in the MLS is Back tournament being held at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex southwest of Orlando in Florida. The winner advances to the quarterfinals, and the loser likely won’t feel so good.
“Bob is very passionate about his job, I’m very passionate about my job, and we are way past that moment,” Schmetzer said of an in-person conversation he had with Bradley in January about the playoff match and the post-match quote.
“We’re certainly going to go back to what we did well in that (October) game and try and replicate it,” Schmetzer continued in a phone conversation Friday. “Bob’s style is still the same. He likes to play up-tempo, he’s counter-pressure. There are certain key elements that LAFC are always going to be when Bob is coaching, so we’re going to look back on our notes.”
LAFC (1-0-2) tied with the Portland Timbers in a group-stage finale Thursday to finish second in Group F. The Sounders (1-1-1) placed second in Group B after the Vancouver Whitecaps upset the Chicago Fire, eliminating them from the tournament.
While the Sounders have nine of their 11 starters from the Western Conference match available for selection Monday, LAFC is without striker Carlos Vela. The reigning league MVP opted out of the tournament in Florida due to health concerns regarding his pregnant wife and the coronavirus pandemic.
LAFC has also had defensive breakdowns in the tournament, conceding seven goals in its three group-stage matches. They were up 2-1 against Portland before allowing an equalizer in the 81st minute.
“When you think about goals we’ve given up, failure to clear balls and own goals, those are the main things that we’ve looked at,” Bradley told media via videoconference Thursday. “It’s always a part of how you start, the concentration early in the game — you don’t just get a chance to start to connect passes. You’ve got to fight through early parts of the game until you can get a little bit more control, and in those periods of the game, we’ve made mistakes and we’ve paid.”
Monday’s Round-of-16 match is a quick four-day turnaround for LAFC. The Sounders, who last played Sunday, had two days off from on-field training and have the opportunity to tend to some injuries on the roster.
Sounders center back Xavier Arreaga remains in concussion protocol and will need to be cleared for training by Sunday in order to start against LAFC. Midfielders Joao Paulo (hamstring), Joevin Jones (adductor) and center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade (hamstring) participated in partial training this week. They remain questionable to play. Joao Paulo, the club’s Designated Player signed in January, has not made an appearance in the tournament.
Veteran forward Will Bruin (knee) returned to full training with the Sounders this week and is available for selection Monday. If he sees the field, it will be his first match since tearing his ACL in practice in June 2019.
“There’s a lot of good story lines surrounding our team,” said Schmetzer via phone Friday, noting midfielder Nico Lodeiro (tendinitis) is healthy in his first stretch of games since winning the championship in November.
“We’re trying to peak at the right moments,” Schmetzer continued. “We can start slow, but you always want to end well.”
NOTE: Sounders season-ticket holders who opted for refunds if the traditional MLS schedule was canceled were notified Friday the refunds would be deposited by mid-August. The league is working on ways to hold a regular season this fall, but it will not be based on the previously released 2020 schedule, nor will it have fans in attendance at this time, thus calling for new ticket packages.
Fans also have the option to credit their account for 2021 tickets.
The three group-stage matches that 24 of the league’s 26 teams were able to play at the tournament in Florida do count toward the overall standings for 2020. None of the knockout-round games count. Nashville SC and FC Dallas withdrew from the tournament due to multiple positive COVID-19 test results, and the league is still determining how both will play their three missed matches.