The Sounders’ historic 12th consecutive playoff run begins Nov. 24 at CenturyLink Field.
Major League Soccer on Monday announced its full playoff schedule with broadcast times and dates. Seattle’s opening-round match against Los Angeles FC will be aired nationally at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN.
The playoff matchup will be the fifth meeting between the clubs this season, one occurring during the MLS is Back tournament in Florida in July that didn’t count toward regular-season standings. Seattle beat seventh-seeded LAFC twice, with both victories at CenturyLink Field. The sides matched each other in scoring eight goals apiece in the 2020 series.
The Sounders upset LAFC in the Western Conference championship match at Banc of California Stadium during their playoff run in October 2019. LAFC had torn through its regular-season schedule to win the Supporters’ Shield, and striker Carlos Vela had won the Golden Boot award with 34 goals.
Yet the Rave Green won the conference-title game 3-1, and LAFC fans threw beer at Sounders players when action was close to the sideline and for corner kicks.
“Well, you gotta go beat the best if you want to be the best,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Sunday during a video conference call with media. “LAFC is going to have revenge on their mind. They’re going to want to come up here and try to do what we did to them down there. So it’s going to be a very spirited game.”
Neither side will have all of its first-choice players available.
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of Seattle’s MLS Cup victory against Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field. A record crowd of 69,274 witnessed the match on a crisp fall day.
This season’s playoffs begin Nov. 20, not only because the COVID-19 pandemic forced MLS to reconfigure its season, but also because of a FIFA international break this week.
Sounders starters Raul Ruidiaz (Peru), Gustav Svensson (Sweden) and Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) were called up by their national teams. Ruidiaz, who tested positive for COVID-19 in October, will not have to quarantine upon return because he’s designated as a “recovered person,” but Svensson and Arreaga are expected to follow the nine-day MLS protocol.
LAFC is expected to be without Diego Rossi (Uruguay), who won this season’s Golden Boot award with 14 goals; countryman Brian Rodriguez; Diego Palacios (Ecuador); and Jose Cifuentes (Ecuador) also due to quarantining.
“We expect a tough opponent; they’re certainly not a seventh seed in our eyes,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said during a video conference call with media Sunday. “We have to respect them as well as play them without fear, and I think with those two characteristics that we have we can take them on.
“It’s going to be a tough game. We can’t be complacent initially in the game. You know, it’s playoff time, we need big players to reach that next level, and I think great teams go from a good regular-season team to a great playoff team. We need that extra level from the whole team, so that’s extremely important. But LAFC is an extremely tough opponent, and we aren’t going to take them lightly.”
The league expanded its postseason format to include two play-in matches for the Eastern Conference to balance the number of clubs there (14). MLS also switched qualification to points per game instead of accumulated points because its Western Conference teams didn’t play the same amount of matches.
Colorado led in having five games canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the club in October. That included a match against the Sounders. The Rapids, who have the youngest roster in MLS, qualified for the postseason as the fifth seed in the West.
Seattle earned the No. 2 seed after defeating San Jose 4-1 at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. Sporting Kansas City’s victory over Real Salt Lake in Utah gave SKC the top seed in the conference.
The Philadelphia Union won the 2020 Supporters’ Shield and top overall seed for the postseason. The higher seed hosts throughout the playoffs.
Fans are not expected to be permitted to attend playoff matches at CenturyLink Field because of the pandemic.
“We expect it to be cold,” Roldan said of conditions for a late fall playoff run. “We play on turf, so it’s going to be a quick game. I expect some rain, and it’s going to make for a slick, quick playoff match. We’re looking forward to it. I expect a high-intensity type of game. A one-off game (with) two quality sides that can put the ball in the back of the net.”