SEATTLE — Los Angeles FC looked lethal for 20 minutes, held on for dear life for much of the remaining 70 minutes, and escaped with victory in the first match in franchise history, topping the Seattle Sounders 1-0 in front of 40,070 at a raucous CenturyLink Field.
The visitors were outshot 22-5 on the afternoon. They could have lost 3-1 or 4-1, if not for a sterling debut from former Sounder Tyler Miller in goal. None of it matters.
They are 1-0 in Major League Soccer.
It took a mere 10 minutes, nothing more, for LAFC to find the first goal in club history. The debutants put a makeshift Sounders lineup on the ropes from the opening moments, thudding the post in just the second minute, before breaking through only nine minutes later.
It was none other than longtime Mexican international Carlos Vela feeding fellow Designated Player Diego Rossi — all of 19 years old and plucked away from Penarol — at the top of the arc for a stunning one-touch strike past goalkeeper Stefan Frei for the 1-0 lead.
While the LAFC attack at times looked lethal, defensive questions arose almost immediately as well.
Nouhou nearly equalized for the Sounders just three minutes later, unleashing a wicked volley from 15 yards out that would have found the back of the net but for a spectacular diving save from Miller.
The Sounders again looked sure to equalize in the 35th minute after Will Bruin redirected a cross to Harry Shipp near the penalty spot. But center back Laurent Ciman slid to deflect Shipp’s volley over the crossbar.
The Sounders unleashed a furious flurry on goal in the second half, but couldn’t find the back of the net or best their former teammate.
Henry Wingo first found Bruin at the doorstep 10 minutes after halftime, but the burly striker skied a short-range shot over the crossbar. Five minutes later halftime substitute Magnus Wolff Eikrem sent in a beautiful long-distance free kick that cruised just past the post. In the 64th minute second-half substitute Handwalla Bwana — a rookie taking the second touch of his professional career — banged the crossbar with a deflected, first-timed shot from 20 yards out. Moments later Bruin appeared to equalize with a point-blank header off a Bwana cross, but was ruled offside.
Miller delivered some of his best work of the day as the match approached the 70th minute.
In the 67th minute, Eikrem latched onto a deflected cross inside the keeper’s box, but Miller smothered the 27-year-old Norwegian’s shot before it even left his foot. Miller provided yet another stellar save just a minute later, leaping to paw away Cristian Roldan’s short-range header off a corner kick.
The Sounders finished the match with 10 men after center back Tony Alfaro picked up a pair of yellow cards in the 79th and 83rd minutes.
As impressive as LAFC’s attack often looked, they were facing a team battling myriad injuries and currently more concerned with CONCACAF Champions League than early season MLS matches.
The Sounders were missing right back Kelvin Leerdam (ankle), defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (quad), and Victor Rodriguez (leg) to injury.
And with his team opening a Champions League quarterfinal series against Liga MX side Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday, head coach Brian Schmetzer also rested Clint Dempsey, center back Chad Marshall, and right back Jordan McCrary.
For LAFC’s part, defender Walker Zimmerman was a late scratch from the starting lineup. He was replaced by Dejan Jakovic.
Looking forward, the Sounders do not return to league play until visiting FC Dallas on March 18. They host Chivas on Wednesday before visiting Guadalajara, Mexico, on March 14. LAFC visits Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Tyler Miller. He made saves both routine and stellar, seven on the day. The Sounders knew they were letting a potential gem go when they made Miller available in the expansion draft. One game into the 2018 season, he is proving them right.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Bruin’s miss over the crossbar early in the second half. Tyler Miller delivered some amazing saves on the day, but he looked sure to be beat if Bruin managed to put a short-range shot on frame.
MATCH TO FORGET
Tony Alfaro. The center back continues to have rough moments when called upon to replace starters Chad Marshall or Roman Torres. With the Sounders pressing for an equalizer, he picked up a pair of yellow cards to leave his team shorthanded down the home stretch.