Three impressions from the Sounders’ win, 3-1, against Los Angeles FC in MLS’s Western Conference final on Tuesday from Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. Seattle won its third conference championship in the past four seasons.
Most of the talk leading up to the conference final was how neither side has played each other with a healthy roster. For Seattle, it meant the Sounders had a secret weapon in striker Raul Ruidiaz.
The Peruvian, who was signed in June 2018, has never played against LAFC, missing this season’s matchups due to a heel injury. Ruidiaz introduced himself early in the conference final and made sure he won’t be forgotten anytime soon in L.A.
Ruidiaz scored two goals and was enough of a threat in Seattle’s attack to cause LAFC coach Bob Bradley to make in-game adjustments. None stopped Ruidiaz, however, who scored an equalizer in the 22nd minute to temper the Banc of California crowd and in the 64th minute nailed a goal in open field to give the Sounders a 3-1 lead.
While Ruidiaz didn’t enter the match experienced against LAFC’s defenders, he has an uncanny ability to score, deserving of his self-proclaimed “Mega Striker” moniker. Ruidiaz began the season by scoring in each of Seattle’s opening three matches. He now has six MLS postseason goals.
Let’s get physical
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer made his first change of the postseason in starting MLS newcomer Xavier Arreaga on the back line in place of fifth-year veteran Roman Torres. The latter suffered a left hamstring strain in the opening half of Seattle’s conference semifinal win against Real Salt Lake last week.
Arreaga has proved to be a reliable reserve for Schmetzer this season, making his playoff debut when Torres couldn’t finish the RSL match. Against LAFC, the Ecuadorian defender immediately got physical with Los Angeles star Carlos Vela with a rough tackle and bordered on getting shown a yellow card throughout his time on the field.
But the aggressive tactic worked in a match where Seattle needed a strong defensive showing. LAFC tied the MLS record for goals scored by a team at 85 this season. Vela won the Golden Boot with 34 goals, a league record for a player in a single-season.
Defense was one of the Sounders’ many struggles during the regular season partly due to the loss of veteran Chad Marshall. The three-time league Defender of the Year retired in May due to rapid degeneration in his right knee. Then in August, Torres began a 10-game suspension due to violating MLS’s substance-abuse policy.
Arreaga, who was signed in May, moved into the lineup and worked quickly to form chemistry with Kim Kee-hee. Against LAFC, they helped keep Vela scoreless in his first match since August.
Seattle hasn’t played well on the road this season, entering Tuesday’s match at 5-8-4 away from CenturyLink Field. But it came out strong against LAFC and kept its cool as the crowd and opponent got more rowdy with the team. Seattle is the second team to get a win at Banc of California Stadium this season. LAFC, which lost to Seattle for the first time in franchise history, finished the season at 13-2-3 at home.