The experiment is over for Sounders FC.
The club took a chance in participating in Major League Soccer’s return to play amid a global pandemic that’s surging with positive COVID-19 cases in Florida. And after three weeks sequestered at Walt Disney World’s complex, the club is headed home behind three errors in the MLS is Back tournament.
Los Angeles FC scored early and often to defeat the Sounders 4-1 in a round of 16 knockout match at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which is southwest of Orlando in Florida. LAFC will advance to the quarterfinals to play Orlando City SC on Friday.
“We created most of their goals,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said via videoconference call with media. “Which is a credit to them, too, because they forced those errors and situations. The last time we found success against them (October 2019), we defended more as a team from front to back and we were also more precise with the key moments. …We had a chance to come back.”
Monday’s late-night matchup with LAFC was supposed to be a headliner between the new darling of MLS and the modern-day powerhouse Sounders, the defending MLS Cup champions. Another layer of intrigue was Seattle beating LAFC at Banc of California Stadium for the league’s Western Conference title last fall.
The Rave Green even had a seven-day span to recover from their final group-stage match July 19, taking two days off from on-field training, while LAFC last played Thursday.
Yet, the Sounders didn’t match the hype nor their reputation.
LAFC pounced on Seattle early and was gifted goals despite being known as a team that can score with ease.
Defender Xavier Arreaga committed a foul in the box to set up the opening goal of the match. LAFC forward Diego Rossi lined up for the penalty kick against Frei, knocking it home in the 14th minute.
In the 82nd, with the Sounders striving to tie the score, Arreaga overplayed a ball that Rossi recovered for a close-range goal that put LAFC up 3-1.
The goals gave Rossi a tournament-high seven. For Arreaga, it’s the third and fourth errors that led to scores for the opponent in the tournament. He had two against the Chicago Fire in a group-stage loss.
LAFC midfielder Latif Blessing scored in the 39th minute. The shot was on-target, but ensured its way into the net off Sounders defender Shane O’Neill’s shoulder.
O’Neill, a league veteran signed in January, started his second consecutive match due to center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade suffering a left hamstring injury earlier in the tournament.
LAFC outshot the Sounders 25-11 and edged them on duels 54-51.
“It was a measuring stick for us and we failed,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via videoconference call with media.
Rossi’s second goal was particularly deflating because the Sounders appeared to building their first stint of momentum on the field.
Forward Will Bruin was substituted into the match in the 70th minute. The veteran suffered a season-ending ACL injury in June 2019 and then a minor knee injury in training camp last June that delayed his comeback.
Bruin scored off an assist from Joevin Jones in 75th minute. The duo had a near chance in the 81st minute.
But Rossi’s goal and teammate Brian Rodriguez converting on a misplaced touch to score in the 89th minute stopped Seattle’s momentum.
“My first objective was to play my first pass,” Bruin said of his return via videoconference call with media. “If that (second attempt) goes in, it’s a whole different game and unfortunately it didn’t. But I was just happy to get back out on the field and play the game that I love.”
The Sounders, who had one victory, one draw and two losses at the tournament, are expected to return to Seattle and hold team trainings in accordance to Washington health and government guidelines along with following MLS protocols to slow the spread of the virus. Only the three group-stage matches count toward the season standings.
The hope is the league will be able to resume a truncated season in August. The Athletic released details about Major League Soccer’s tentative plans, which splits 18 matches into two phases and has the regular-season run late-August through Nov. 8. The playoffs would begin Nov. 20 and MLS Cup would be played Dec. 12.
MLS caps its Florida tournament Aug. 11.
“Hopefully we have a goal pretty soon in terms of what we can look forward to because practice just for the sake of practicing is difficult,” Frei said. “We didn’t know much coming into the bubble and how it was going to pan out. Everybody was a little bit anxious on the plane ride here, we didn’t really know what to expect. …The world out there is still struggling with it. We’re going back and the fight has to stay strong to make sure we can hopefully provide a little bit more entertainment for people and a little bit of joy with getting back on the pitch in some type of capacity.”