The Seattle Sounders have been Major League Soccer’s most consistent franchise when it comes to reaching the conference final stage.
On Tuesday, Seattle plays in its third Western Conference Final in four seasons, at Banc of California Stadium against Los Angeles FC.
Despite all the success achieved, the Sounders enter as a decided underdog against what many are calling the best single-season team in league history.
“I don’t read all of that media reports (about being the underdog), but I’ve read some of it, and yeah, it is what it is,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Our guys are ready to play the way we know how we can play. We’ll see how the game unfolds.”
The top task in the club’s fifth conference final is shutting down Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and the rest of the LAFC attack that produced five goals in a conference semifinal win Thursday against the LA Galaxy.
Schmetzer has prepared his side with a few different approaches to try and slow down the Black-and-Gold’s top scorers.
“We’ll have to do a couple things because it’s a complex problem,” Schmetzer said. “You could either go and attack well and keep them off the ball with possession. You can make sure your lines are compact. You can be good with 1-v-1 individual defending. It’s going to take all of those things to slow LAFC down. They are a tremendous team. We worked on little bits off all of that. We’ve certainly worked on our attacking movements to put them under pressure.”
The Sounders have not beaten LAFC in four regular-season meetings, with the Supporters’ Shield winners earning a win and a draw a week apart earlier this season.
Seattle was not at full strength for the April 21 and 28 meetings, and in the latter, Cristian Roldan was sent off in the 18th minute.
“It’s great to have a full squad (for Tuesday),” Schmetzer said. “We’ve won four tough games in a row. We are excited that everybody is available. It just makes our job a little bit more difficult picking starting lineups, but once we get that done and the guys are out on the field, the rest is up to them.”
A good chunk of Seattle’s matchday squad from the 2016 and 2017 MLS Cups is also still around, including Stefan Frei, Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez.
The big-game experience could be an advantage for the Sounders against an LAFC side playing in its first conference final and with all of the pressure on it to win MLS Cup.
“I think we have a decent amount of experience in our group,” Frei said. “We have a good mix of young eager guys and older aware guys. It’s good. You want to have a high standard. Just making the playoff again this year and claiming that record of consecutive playoff appearances is massive. I think it keeps elevating the standard, and because of that it gets harder to maintain the standard, but that’s what you want to do. You want to consistently be going to the playoffs and winning, or at least fighting, for trophies.”
Of course, those players have to step up again in big moments, but this is not the typical underdog going into the game with nothing to lose. This is a proven winner in MLS, and the Sounders will likely force LAFC to absorb a few punches of their own over 90 minutes.
“Coaches are tired of talking about what we’re going to do,” Schmetzer said. “We want the game to come and it’ll be a good performance. They’ll be up for it and ready to go.”