There are ways to defeat the Sounders FC. Lining midfielder Nico Lodeiro up for penalty kicks is not one of them.
Twice Los Angeles FC was called for fouls in the box in their matchup against the Sounders on Friday night. And twice Lodeiro scored off the penalty kick, leading his team to a 3-0 victory at CenturyLink Field.
Lodeiro, who signed with the Sounders in 2016, is a perfect 14 for 14 in converting penalty kicks during the Major League Soccer regular season. He’s knocked in three this season.
Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz provided the third goal off an assist from midfielder Joao Paulo in the 82nd minute. Ruidiaz smacked a dead-on, left-footed shot past LAFC keeper Pablo Sisniega to mark the former’s eighth score of the season.
“We are blessed with a killer in Raul,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said during a video conference call with media. “That third goal sunk them (because) it was not an easy game. It was not a comfortable game. At least I didn’t feel comfortable.”
Without fans in the stadium, broadcasts of the match clearly picked up LAFC coach Bob Bradley’s frustration at the officiating. “That is insane guys; you’re blowing the game,” Bradley yelled in the direction of referee Joseph Dickerson after the second foul in the opening half.
The penalties were called in a span of five minutes and were indisputable upon replay. In fact, LAFC was advancing the ball when Dickerson was called to the VAR booth to check a missed call minutes earlier. Upon review, LAFC defender Dejan Jakovic was called for a handball.
Lodeiro directed his left-footed kick to the left post as Sisniega dived right, scoring in the 29th minute.
For the second penalty, Sounders defender Yeimar Gomez was tackled hard in the box. And Lodeiro walked to the familiar spot, this time booting the ball to the right to score in the 33rd minute.
Sisniega also dived right, seemingly tipping the ball with his outstretched right-hand. The effort wasn’t enough to redirect the ball from the net.
“Those pressure moments don’t seem to faze him,” Schmetzer said of Lodeiro. “He just has it in him.”
LAFC appeared to score off a rebound from a Sounders keeper Stefan Frei save in the 14th minute but was ruled offside. The visitors possessed the ball for 50.8% of the opening half and were limited to one shot on target.
The Sounders were flat to open the second half, yet didn’t concede a goal. The team has allowed late goals in their past two wins and a draw.
“When we scored that third goal, the first response was a bunch of guys looking back and saying, ‘We’re going to get this (clean sheet),'” said Frei, during a video conference call with media, of his fourth shutout of the season. “It’s a really good sign that people as a whole take pride in keeping clean sheets and not that it’s just a dumb goalkeeper’s stat. It means you can do it on both ends, bend and not break.”
A welcomed hard rain began to fall as the teams took the field for kickoff. Both teams had trainings impacted earlier in the week due to smoke from wildfires across the region. Georgetown, a neighborhood south of CenturyLink, recorded the worst Air Quality Index in Puget Sound history at 314 on Monday.
Conditions were still unhealthy for sensitive groups for the Friday night match at 120, according to AirNow. MLS has an AQI threshold of 200 or higher in order to delay or cancel a game or practice.
LAFC and the Sounders used the pregame to unify in showing support for those fighting and suffering from the wildfires. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer joined Bradley in a photo, holding a sign that read “West Coast We Got This.”
The Sounders players warmed up in white T-shirts that read “Justice for Manny Ellis” and later held a banner for a team photo that read the same. Ellis, 33, was killed by Tacoma police. His family filed a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city in August.
“We wanted to make a statement that this is happening also in our backyard,” Frei said of police brutality. “It’s happening everywhere. … We’re not just jumping on a bandwagon. We’re looking at our neighborhood and how we can help our local community to find a solution and raise awareness as well.”
Schmetzer didn’t make any changes to the lineup that scored a franchise-record seven goals in a win against the San Jose Earthquakes at CenturyLink Field last week. The club’s five goals in 33 minutes in the opening half is the fastest a MLS team has scored in the league’s 25-year history.
The Rave Green (6-2-3) moves into first place in the MLS Western Conference with Friday’s win. The club was embarrassed by LAFC in the MLS is Back tournament in Florida in July, losing 4-1, but has defeated their California foe twice since the regular-season restart. LAFC (4-5-3) is playing without striker Carlos Vela, the reigning league MVP.
“We are not satisfied,” Ruidiaz said during a video conference call with media. “We want to be able to repeat that (2019 championship) experience.”