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Seattle Sounders stun LAFC to clinch MLS Cup spot

The Sounders played a defensively disciplined game to neutralize the likes of Carlos Vela.

The Seattle Sounders have clinched a spot in their third MLS Cup final in four years.

With a pair of goals Tuesday from striker Raul Ruidiaz, the Sounders upset LAFC in a disciplined, gritty 3-1 win in the Western Conference finals at Banc of California Stadium.

“I’m just so proud of these guys out there and the people up there,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said afterward, gesturing to his players and his staff. “The tactics were right, their effort was right, their mentality was right and they deserved to win the game.”

The evening started with what appeared to be a dream start for LAFC in front of a sold out home crowd. In the 17th minute, Eduard Atuesta fired a gorgeous free kick from 30 yards out over the wall and tucked it neatly into the near post.

But within five minutes, the Sounders had pulled level, reaping the rewards of a defensively compact approach. Nicolas Lodeiro slipped a ball into the feet of Ruidiaz, who deftly turned around defender Eddie Segura and get behind on goal. Ruidiaz’s shot from inside the 18-yard box caught goalkeeper Tyler Miller flat-footed.

Lodeiro returned in the 26th minute to give the Sounders the lead. The playmaking Uruguayan received a ball from Joevin Jones some 20 yards from goal, took a touch, and fired a low skipping ball out of Miller’s reach.

Oct 29, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela (10) grabs the ball while headed for a corner kick against the Seattle Sounders FC during the first half at Banc of California Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Sounders successfully stymied the LAFC attack by, in part, taking Carlos Vela out of the game, who was starting as a so-called “false No. 9” instead of on the wing. In the first half, Vela didn’t get the ball inside the penalty box once, and at halftime Vela was moved out to his preferred wing spot.

“We gotta move the ball quicker,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said at halftime. “They’ve done a good job clogging the middle and we just haven’t moved the ball side-to-side fast enough.”

But the situation went from bad to worse for LAFC in the 64th minute — and again it was the Lodeiro-Ruidiaz combo. Lodeiro passed a ball centrally for Ruidiaz to run onto, and Ruidiaz took a touch to settle the ball and fired past Miller.

LAFC fans showed anger over two separate handball shouts on Seattle that referee Jair Marrufo waved off, with a few fans throwing debris on the field in protest. There were no on-field checks for a video review.

The win was something of an upset for No. 2 seed Seattle Sounders. LAFC clinched the Supporters Shield with room to spare, racking up 72 points over the 34-game season, the most in MLS history. LAFC, who hosted Tuesday’s playoff match, had the best record at home of any team in MLS this year.

The Sounders have made the MLS Cup twice before, beating Toronto FC in a shootout in 2016 but losing a rematch the following year.

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