MLS Playoffs

A look at Seattle's stunning performance to upset LAFC

LAFC won the Supporters Shield in record fashion but it will not win MLS Cup after being upset and outplayed at home by an inspired Seattle Sounders team. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta is here with his recap and reactions to the Western Conference final

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 30, 2019
2:00 AM
IN ONE OF the most stunning playoff upsets in recent MLS history, the Seattle Sounders travelled south and eliminated Los Angeles FC at the Banc of California Stadium by a convincing 3-1 scoreline. Of course upsets happen, but Seattle dominated this game in every facet against a team which had a record-breaking regular season and was playing at home in front of raucous crowd.

LAFC took the lead in the 17th minute when Eduard Atuesta hit a stunning free kick that beat Stefan Frei from 25 yards. When everyone was expecting Carlos Vela to take it, it was instead the Colombian who ripped the right footed shot.

Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer expressed concern before the game that if his team conceded an early goal, they could be in trouble. It did, but he was wrong in the effect it had. Instead, Seattle rallied immediately with two quick goals in the 22nd and 26th minute to turn a deficit into a lead.

The first goal came when Raul Ruidiaz quickly turned Eddie Segura and beat Tyler Miller with an open shot from inside the box. Then minutes later, a picture-perfect counterattack saw Nicolas Lodeiro finish from outside the box to put Seattle on top.

Both teams had their chances heading into the second half but in the 64th minute, Ruidiaz netted his second when he took a ball from the left side from Lodeiro and again beat Miller.

With Seattle holding a two goal advantage, LAFC was completely deflated and the Sounders were able to see out the stunning upset without much trouble.

Ranking this upset

This upset is clearly one of the biggest in MLS history – and there is a legitimate argument that this is the biggest.

Yes, Supporters Shield winners have lost in the playoffs before the final. Just last season the New York Red Bulls fell to Atlanta after they broke the previous league record for most points in a regular season.

But those were over two legs where both teams had the opportunity to maximize their home-field advantage. Here, Seattle was denied the opportunity of playing at home and won it completely on the basis of playing in one of the league’s toughest stadiums for a visiting team, against the best team.

Seattle is certainly a very good team that was always capable of it, but this was a major upset. Not just in that Seattle won, but in how it was clearly the better team. It didn’t score against the run of play, it was always the more aggressive team in this game.

It wasn’t just the result. Seattle’s performance was extremely impressive.

Seattle’s expensive players stepped up

Each of the four remaining teams is there because they are among the league’s most ambitious clubs. Parity isn’t completely gone but there is a difference between the final four teams in 2019 and the Houston Dynamos, Columbus Crews, New England Revolutions, and Chicago Fires of the league.

Seattle, LAFC, Atlanta, and Toronto are heavily invested into their teams and have much higher expectations for success.

But it is one thing to spend money on players, it is another thing to actually get them to make differences in big games. If the Zlatan-era is over for the Galaxy, it ended with just one playoff win. Wayne Rooney won no playoff games with DC United. The same can be said for Bastian Schweinsteiger with Chicago.

Seattle has been consistently able to find a way to the most out of the expensive players it has brought in. In the past it was Obafemi Martins, Fredy Montero, and Clint Dempsey. Now it is Lodeiro, Ruidiaz, and Jordan Morris.

Lodeiro has been a remarkable player in this league despite not having the name recognition of Zlatan, Vela, or Martinez. When many clubs go out and buy players, they look for quality and/or name recognition. Seattle buys players that fit the way it wants to play and this is leading to better results on an annual basis.

When the dust settles, it will be hard to think of a better single-game performance in MLS playoff history than what Raul Ruidiaz put in against LAFC.

Neutralizing Vela

Carlos Vela absolutely dominated the league in the regular season in 2019. Against Seattle, we went for very long stretches as a non-factor.

Seattle came in with a clear plan to deny Vela from getting the ball, and it worked. Without Vela, LAFC did not appear to have an effective Plan B.

In MLS, there is far more money spent on attacking players than defensive players. During the regular season, it doesn’t necessarily stand out. But in the playoffs, the games become far more intense. When that happens and everyone plays to their potential, the discrepancies between attacking and defensive talent stand out. That is why playoff games often devolve into shootouts.

The teams that have the best defensive game-plan tend to have a much bigger advantage than teams with big goal scorers. While LAFC had one of the best defenses in the league in terms of goals conceded, it was exposed when the games became more intense and the attacking plyers raised their level.

Seattle’s defensive system against LAFC was first-rate. Then when you combine it with the fact they had offensive players to score big goals in a system that fits them, you have a team with a dominant performance.

Schmetzer’s growing resume

Brian Schmetzer is one of the best stories in the league right now. Born in Seattle, he has been affiliated with the Sounders long before the team was in MLS. He played for the Seattle Sounders in 1980 and began coaching in the organization in 2002. He only became a head coach of the team in the MLS era starting in 2016.

Now Schmetzer will be heading to his third MLS Cup in four years. But this is due to a system he has created and a general ability to get the most out of his players. He has seen star players come and go, but the team continues to play extremely hard under his watch.

With his long-standing personal attachment to the club, soccer in the Seattle area as a native of the city, and his success, it is one of the better stories to come out of MLS in an era where most of the headlines are generated by expensive foreign imports.

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