On nights like Tuesday, the soccer calendar needs to be considered.
Multiple three-match weeks. International breaks. Leagues Cup tournament.
Since Major League Soccer’s delayed start in April due to contract negotiations with its players, it seemed league matches were jammed into an already packed international slate.
The Sounders FC played in bunches this season. Tuesday’s match was Seattle’s fourth in 11 days. And it showed.
The Rave Green shuffled in slow motion. Los Angeles FC capitalized early to collect a 3-0 win at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC keeper Jamal Blackman had five saves.
“It doesn’t help the quality of soccer,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “Having a lot of games like this is difficult on the body, but all teams are dealing with it. … It’s not an excuse. It’s more so just being able to recover and utilize our squad. We have tremendous depth on our team and today just wasn’t our day. It was a frustrating performance.”
With the win, the Black and Gold (12-12-8) moved into the seventh and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Seattle (17-8-7) remains atop the West but the three-point lead has the stability of tissue paper with Sporting Kansas City and Colorado Rapids idle. SKC, which is second with 55 points, also has a game in hand.
LAFC forward Raheem Edwards spotted teammate Brian Rodriguez for the opening score. Rodriguez slipped behind Sounders wingback Alex Roldan and center back Yeimar into massive space, Edwards getting the ball to Rodriguez before defender Xavier Arreaga could cover.
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei was in position for the save. Rodriguez cut the shot under Frei’s leg for the score in the 21st minute.
The Sounders, again, left too much space for LAFC to play in during first-half stoppage time. Defender Kim Moon-Hwan had time to set up an assist that deflected off Arreaga to LAFC midfielder Cristian Arango to Latif Blessing and into the goal.
“We can’t let that second goal go in at the half,” said Cristian Roldan of the 2-0 deficit at the break. “If we avoided one of those, we’re still in it and our two chances at the beginning of the second half could’ve changed things.”
Instead, Arango polished off the match with an insulting goal from distance. The right-footed shot was just out of reach for a diving Frei in the 51st minute.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was forced to make one substitution in the opening half due to forward Will Bruin suffering an apparent knee injury. After LAFC’s third goal, Schmetzer substituted winger Leo Chu on for Brad Smith in the 56th minute.
Three exchanges were made beginning in the 67th minute when co-captain Nico Lodeiro subbed on for midfielder Josh Atencio. Lodeiro had a second knee surgery in September, missing eight MLS matches.
“Nico was lively, but the game was 3-0 when we brought him on,” Schmetzer said. “L.A. was in control of a lot of parts of the game, so they were sitting back and they could absorb some pressure. But Nico after the game, I spoke with him, and his knee feels good.”
The Sounders have conceded a goal in the opening 30 minutes of three of their past four matches. The sloppy starts aided in the club going 0-3-1 during the stretch.
“This is no positive spin on this,” Schmetzer said. “I’m concerned that we’re giving up early goals. How concerned am I going into the playoffs? A little bit. We’re still a good team.”
Smith made his first appearance since September due to a shoulder injury suffered in training. He was replaced in the lineup by midfielder Jimmy Medranda, who’s now out with hamstring soreness.
Sounders defensive midfielder Joao Paulo was out due to yellow-card accumulation. It’s just his second missed match of the season. Schmetzer went with veteran Kelyn Rowe and Atencio.
LAFC forward Carlos Vela returned from hamstring injury as a sub in the 78th minute. Vela last played in August. LAFC continues to be without midfielders Eduard Atuesta (shoulder) and Jose Cifuentes (suspension).
The Sounders get a slight break in the schedule. The club returns to host the Los Angeles Galaxy on Monday for the final match of the season at Lumen Field, then ends the regular season Nov. 7 at Vancouver.
“We were always in games at the beginning of the year because we didn’t get scored on,” said Roldan, whose team has now conceded 31 goals. “We didn’t let these goals happen and we defended as a team. We’re seeing ourselves be a little bit too open for my liking. Getting back to being that strong defensive team is something that we’ll be focusing on.”