Brad Smith spent the majority of Tuesday night drenched in beer — and savored every moment.
“It’s amazing,” said the Sounders left back, via MLS-provided audio after teammate Harry Shipp emptied a can of beer over Smith’s head. Sprays of various types of alcohol were part of the festivities to celebrate the franchise’s Western Conference championship at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
Seattle overcame an early 1-0 deficit before a sold-out crowd of 22,099 to defeat the heavily favored Los Angeles FC, 3-1. The delirium was what Smith in April imagined experiencing when discussing his then-unsure future with the Sounders.
Seattle acquired Smith, a native of Australia, via loan from the English Premier League. Originally signed as a teen phenom by Liverpool, the storied club loaned Smith to AFC Bournemouth, which in turned agreed to terms in 2018 with Seattle — a deal where Smith could’ve been recalled in July.
“I want to stay; we have a chance to do something special,” Smith said then and practically on loop throughout the summer as the loan deadline approached and wonderment about his status increased. The fretting ended July 31, when Bournemouth agreed to extend the loan through the end of the 2019 MLS season.
Why Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders’ general manager and president of soccer, was keen on retaining Smith was evident in the second minute Tuesday, when Smith blocked a surefire cross from forward Diego Rossi. In the 14th minute, Smith used his quick pace to dribble up the flank and send a cross to Joevin Jones, but the pass sailed out of play.
Smith had two scoring attempts and worked with Sounders forward Jordan Morris on the left while Jones and defender Kelvin Leerdam worked the right to pressure LAFC’s record-setting attack. Seattle also received significant defensive help up top from forward Raul Ruidiaz, who scored the game’s equalizer in the 22nd minute and nailed his second goal in the 64th.
“They withstood a lot of pressure and a lot of nerves there after LAFC scored the first goal,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It was not an easy game, so you have to credit LAFC, but you have to make sure you give my team the same amount of credit.”
Top-seeded LAFC scored five goals in its Western Conference semifinal win against the L.A. Galaxy. The club tied a league record with 85 goals during the regular season. MLS Golden Boot winner Carlos Vela scored an MLS-record 34 alone, 10 in his past 10 starts.
But the Sounders’ collective defending dried up all that scoring. LAFC’s one score was on a free kick in the 17th minute after a foul called on Sounders midfielder Gustav Svensson.
“I think Cristian (Roldan) mentioned it; no matter what happens in the start, we’ll keep playing the same way,” Smith said. “That’s what we did. We put the pressure on them early. We were physical with them; I don’t think they liked that. I feel like that was a key for us. Our defending as a whole unit was magnificent. That’s the best we’ve defended all year.”
Seattle defended so well, frustration leaked out as the game progressed. Players got into skirmishes and fans booed everything from officiating at halftime to Sounders players when seemingly in hearing distance.
Smith’s first douse of beer came in the 73rd minute. He was jockeying for possession of the ball in the left corner and fell when tripped up. A few fans threw various items at Smith, one liquid item displaying the logo of Dos Equis beer.
Images captured by photographers at the match showed that fans again threw cans of beer at the Sounders as the visitors celebrated their third Western Conference crown in the past four seasons on LAFC’s field.
The Sounders will vie for their second MLS Cup title Nov. 10, airing nationally on ABC.
Smith’s final soak was with teammates and family in a celebratory locker room. Champagne drenched jerseys, beer washed down faces and MLS’s Western Conference Cup trophy was used as a vessel to drink it all in.
“Being in two big clubs (Liverpool and Bournemouth) and not really playing regular game time, for me to come here and be so successful with such a successful club and come to my first final, for me personally, it’s massive,” Smith said via audio provided by MLS. “And I know we’re going to do the fans proud and bring the trophy home.”