MLS Playoff Preview: Sounders vs. LAFC

MLS Playoff Preview: Sounders vs. LAFC

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MLS Playoff Preview: Sounders vs. LAFC

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There was a time when a Seattle Sounders-Los Angeles FC playoff matchup would be expected to be a can’t-miss conference final pitting the two biggest MLS Cup favorites heading into the 2020 season.

Much has changed since the start of 2020 though, particularly with LAFC, which has endured injuries and defensive issues to wind up a disappointing seventh in the West, setting up the kind of opening-round matchup that could lead to an early end to a season that began with so much promise for Bob Bradley’s team.

Tuesday night’s showdown at Lumen Field (10:30 p.m., ESPN) also presents an opportunity for redemption, and a measure of revenge for LAFC. After all, it was the Sounders who eliminated LAFC from the 2019 MLS playoffs on the way to their MLS Cup title run.

Securing that revenge, and redemption, won’t be easy for an LAFC side missing several key players due to COVID-19, including MLS Golden Boot winner Diego Rossi, fellow Uruguayan Brian Rodriguez and Ecuadorians Diego Palacios and Jose Cifuentes.

LAFC still boasts 2019 MLS MVP, who is back healthy, and Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has enjoyed a career resurgence. They, along with Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye, give LAFC a standout nucleus still capable of beating anybody in MLS.

The Sounders aren’t just anybody though. They are the reigning champions, with a championship nucleus known for stepping it up in the playoffs.

Here is a closer look at this highly-anticipated Western Conference playoff showdown:

Season Series

The teams have split the regular season series 2-2 with Seattle winning both of the matches at then-CenturyLink Field. LAFC won 4-1 at the MLS is Back Tournament and also captured a 3-1 home victory back on October 11th.

Players to Watch

CARLOS VELA

Carlos Vela is back and fit for LAFC who definitely need him in attack against the defending MLS Cup Champions. Vela has scored four goals and added one assist in seven appearances this season, but has not featured against the Sounders in 2020. The Mexican international will be the main attacking piece to watch especially with Diego Rossi unavailable due to contracting COVID-19.

JORDAN MORRIS

Jordan Morris has continued to be one of the top wingers in MLS and 2020 was no different. The U.S. Men’s National Team forward reached 10 goals during the regular season and also chipped in seven assists. Morris, 26, will be key in helping break down an LAFC backline which has been inconsistent at times, and is always a threat in the final third whether its scoring himself or setting up his teammates.

Matchup to Watch

NICOLAS LODEIRO VS. EDUARD ATUESTA

While many matchups will be intriguing to watch, the midfield showdown between Nicolas Lodeiro and Eduard Atuesta should be the most exciting. Lodeiro runs the show for the Sounders in midfield while Atuesta is key at breaking things up for LAFC. All in all, it will be fun to watch these two professionals go head-to-head in the center of the pitch.

X-Factors

BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS

Bradley Wright-Phillips may be 35-years-old, but he is still producing at a high rate for LAFC. The former New York Red Bulls star won the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award after delivering eight goals and six assists this season. With Rossi unavailable in attack, Wright-Phillips’ importance increases even more and also provides a good option in the air for LAFC’s attacks.

CRISTIAN ROLDAN

The Seattle Sounders will rely heavily on Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro for goals, but Cristian Roldan could also chip in if needed. Roldan only scored twice in the regular season, but has found the back of the net 20 times over the past four seasons combined. His ability to arrive in the box could prove crucial in the dying stages of the match.

Outlook

LAFC is shorthanded heading into Tuesday’s match, but rest assured Bob Bradley’s team has the weapons to go to Seattle and deliver a victory. Vela’s return is key to LAFC’s chances, and his ability to float all over the field makes him difficult to pin down, but Seattle does have strong fullbacks who are capable of making things tough for Vela on the flanks.

Even if LAFC is able to break through and score a goal or more, the lower seed’s hopes of a road win will hinge on the defense showing real improvement after a season filled with inconsistent performances. Unfortunately for LAFC, it will be facing a deadly Sounders attack with some of the league’s most dangerous attackers.

Nicolas Lodeiro has been a playoff sensation since arriving in MLS, while Jordan Morris has continued to evolve as an attacking threat, making Seattle’s attack arguably more dangerous than even last year, when they won the MLS Cup title.

There is some uncertainty surrounding a potential Sounders lineup after word emerged late Monday that a first-team player had tested positive for COVID-19. If that player is Raul Ruidiaz, it would be a big blow to Seattle’s attack, but if it is Xavier Arreaga, the Sounders defense could be left vulnerable.

That uncertainty makes it difficult to predict how Tuesday’s clash will go, but what is a safe bet is that we will be treated to an attacking-heavy match, a battle between two teams that won’t be afraid to devote numbers to chasing goals.

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