The Sounders FC wanted a night like Tuesday — a blustery, cold, drizzly atmosphere at Lumen Field.
A picturesque Seattle evening for a picturesque Major League Soccer playoff match.
The Sounders, seeded second in the Western Conference, played to their favored weather conditions to dominate possession against seventh-seeded Los Angeles FC. The Rave Green crafted an early score to ease its way to a 3-1 victory.
“It was a pretty impressive victory,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle advances to play sixth-seeded FC Dallas in the conference semifinals Dec. 1. FCD advanced by upsetting Portland in a shootout Sunday.
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan won the ball with a header to help set up his team’s opening score. Raul Ruidiaz chased it down and sent a pinpointed cross to Jordan Morris on the left wing. Morris had time to deaden the ball and tap a pass backward to a sprinting Nico Lodeiro. The latter smacked a left-footed shot past LAFC keeper Pablo Sisniega in the 18th minute.
“I started yelling to him, ‘Jordan, Jordan, I’m here,'” Lodeiro said of the play. “I just had to put it in because he sent it over with a very nice pass. The rotation of the ball was perfect for me.”
Ruidiaz scored his own goal in the 66th minute. Lodeiro had the service on a corner kick but it was headed away by LAFC. Ruidiaz was behind the defense to collect the loose ball and swipe it into the net for his 13th goal of the season.
Morris scored the final goal with some dazzling footwork in the 80th minute. Ruidiaz had the assist, sending the pass into space where Morris shines. It was the Mercer Island product’s 11th goal of the season.
Not even playing amid the coronavirus pandemic for the fifth time this season could quell the hype between the sides. The Sounders trounced LAFC for the Western Conference championship at Banc of California last season en route to winning MLS Cup.
Although LAFC had two decisive victories against Seattle — one during the MLS is Back tournament that didn’t count toward regular-season standings — Tuesday was the game the visitors wanted.
Leading up to playoff opener, the Black and Gold talked about wanting to defeat the Sounders on their field in the postseason as was done to LAFC in 2019. But LAFC lacked power.
Even when given a free shot at the net.
Nouhou fouled LAFC in the box, creating a penalty kick for forward Carlos Vela. The latter won MLS’s Golden Boot award with a record 34 goals last year. Vela was out a majority of this season due to witnessing the birth of his daughter and a knee injury.
Vela prepared to take the free shot against Sounders keeper Stefan Frei in the 21st minute. The striker trotted toward the ball and booted a straight-line shot at Frei, who simply cradled the gift.
“We knew they were going to try to come here and do the same thing and we had to be prepared for that and match their intensity,” Morris said. “We did that. We created a ton of chances, especially in the second half. On another day, we score a couple more. But I thought the whole team, you can look at every player, worked really hard and matched their intensity and that’s what led us to win tonight.”
Sounders defenders Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Alex Roldan, Joao Paulo and Shane O’Neill covered LAFC’s potent lineup well to limit the visitors to four shots on target.
LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta scored in the 77th minute, getting O’Neill out of position. Frei stumbled in his attempt to defend the ball.
LAFC played without first-choice starters Uruguayan forward Diego Rossi, the league’s Golden Boot winner, Brian Rodriguez (Uruguayan), Diego Palacios (Ecuador) and Jose Cifuentes (Ecuador) due to positive test results for COVID-19 while with their respective national teams.
Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam was replaced by Alex Roldan in the starting lineup. No immediate explanation was given for the change.
The club did announce Monday a first-team player tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was said to not have been around teammates and staff the past week and immediately self-isolated. Part of MLS protocol is not revealing the name of players who test positive.
Veteran midfielder Gustav Svensson also didn’t start. Sweden called Svensson up for national-team duty earlier this month and the Sounders returned him via charter flight last week to avoid a mandatory quarantine but ultimately didn’t name him to the 18-man roster. Defender Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) was unavailable because of the virus outbreak within his national team last week. He had multiple negative test results for COVID-19 but medical task forces for the league and MLS Players Association deemed it unsafe for Arreaga to rejoin the club at this time.
“The night felt like a playoff night,” Morris said. “Showing up at the stadium, the pre-match, the jitters that you feel throughout the day (were there). It was a different feeling going into this game, for sure. Win or go home. Those have more at stake, obviously. So, the feeling was different and more exciting. But you can never replicate having fans in the stadium.”