Heading into Sunday’s game against Los Angeles FC, the Sounders find themselves in an odd position: underdog.
Perhaps it’s the league-leading 21 goals LAFC has scored in its second MLS season or the glitz of its pristine Banc of California Stadium, but it seems Seattle and its unbeaten record should be more revered leading up to this game.
“I hope they underestimate us,” Sounders goalie Stefan Frei said. “I don’t think they are way better than we are, ’cause I think we’re a really good squad. We can go down there and make it very difficult defensively for them to find something and we have guys who can exploit their holes in the back. It’ll be a fight, and if they’re not ready for it, I’ll take that.”
The nationally televised matchup at 4 p.m. Sunday on Fox Sports 1 had been hyped as pitting two undefeated teams before LAFC lost its first match of the season 1-0 at Vancouver on Wednesday. For Los Angeles, the game against Seattle is its second in a span of five days. Shaft Brewer Jr., Peter-Lee Vassell and Niko Hamalainen made their first MLS starts along the LAFC back line against Vancouver in a move to manage minutes due to the condensed schedule.
LAFC (6-1-1) remains the leader in the MLS standings with 19 points, while Seattle (5-0-1) is third overall with 16 points and is the lone unbeaten team remaining in the league.
“The amount of coverage that they’ve received has been way more than us, possibly because they’re a second-year team,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said of LAFC. “But they deserve all the praise right now because of the amount of goals they’ve scored and the amount of clean sheets they’ve had. We’re flying under the radar and I’m OK with that.”
Seattle has yet to beat LAFC, the loss in Los Angeles last year coming on a goal in second-half stoppage time. LAFC has a different look than last season, though forward Carlos Vela is still the primary threat. He’s scored eight of the club’s league-leading 21 goals.
“He does so much for their team, but is not all of their team,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “They’re up-tempo, high-pressure, good-attacking team. We’ll be under it and have to stay strong, see how the game plays out and make sure they feel a little bit of our attacking punch.”
LAFC could have an advantage in keeper Tyler Miller, a former Sounders player selected by Los Angeles in the 2017 expansion draft. He’s tallied three shutouts and 19 saves to open the season.
“He’s a young guy that can still improve a lot and that’s a compliment because he’s a very, very good goalkeeper as it is,” said Frei of his former backup. “We tried to instill things in him here and whether he has the help that he had here, I don’t know, but whatever he’s doing, it’s working.”
Seattle will have a quick turnaround after this game, hosting the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. The Sounders were hopeful to have their full rotation for the upcoming week but forward Will Bruin did not travel to LA due to a left hamstring injury. He replaced Raul Ruidiaz up front the past two games, scoring two goals in a win against Toronto FC last week.
Ruidiaz returned to training on Tuesday, but is still managing a heel injury. He posted a video on Instagram on Friday showing him in a walking boot and is listed as questionable on the MLS injury report as of Friday evening. If Ruidiaz can’t play, Schmetzer could move Jordan Morris to forward and shuffle players on the right wing.
“We have a whole week to prove ourselves and we’re going to need 25 players,” said Roldan of the upcoming games. “It’s going to be nice to measure ourselves really early on in the season. Hopefully we can come out victorious in all three games.”