The Black & Gold Guide: Western Conference Final Edition
The top two seeds in the West meet. No. 1 seed LAFC will host the No. 2 seed Seattle Sounders on Tuesday evening in the Western Conference Final of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm at Banc of California Stadium, where the Black & Gold have been nothing short of impressive. The winner of the match will advance to the MLS Cup Final against the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between Atlanta United and Toronto FC. Although both LAFC and Seattle finished the regular season as the top two teams in the West, the point difference between them was abysmal as the Black & Gold held a 16-point difference over Seattle after 34 games played. Some may see LAFC as the clear favorites to advance based on what they have accomplished over the season and being able to play in front of their home crowd. However, the Sounders will not be a pushover as they are known for their “never give up” attitude.
Below is everything you need to know about Tuesday’s match vs Seattle Sounders:
Kinda One-Sided (So Far)
LAFC are undefeated vs the Seattle Sounders with a record of 3-0-1. This will be the first meeting between the cubs in the postseason as the previous 4 match-ups were during the regular season.
March 4, 2018- Seattle Sounders 0, LAFC 1 at CenturyLink Field
April 29, 2018- LAFC 1, Seattle Sounders 0 at Banc of California Stadium
April 21, 2019- LAFC 4, Seattle Sounders 1 at Banc of California Stadium
April 28, 2019- Seattle Sounders 1, LAFC 1
Show Them What They’re Missing
LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller played two season with the Seattle Sounders back in 2016 and 2017 before being signed by the Black & Gold in the 2018 Expansion Draft. Miller only made 4 total appearances for the Sounders in all competitions during his time in Seattle but was part of the 2017 MLS Cup winning roster as a backup goalkeeper. During training this week, Miller was asked about what it meant to face his old club in the postseason and his answer came with a bit of vengeance. “There’s a side of me that wants to go out there and show them [Seattle] what they let go. For me, to be able to have this opportunity to play on Tuesday and to beat my old club, it’s something that would mean a lot.”
Only 5 LAFC players on the current roster have played in an MLS conference final before:
-Tyler Miler with Seattle Sounders in 2017 vs Houston Dynamo
-Steven Beitashour with Toronto FC in 2016 and 2017 vs Montreal Impact/ Columbus Crew
-Dejan Jakovic with D.C. United in 2012 vs Houston Dynamo
-Lee Nguyen in 2014 with New England Revolution vs New York Red Bulls
-Walker Zimmerman in 2015 with FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers
Control The First Half
LAFC are a team that likes to control the tempo of the game and prefer to do it sooner than later. Setting down in the early minutes of this match along with executing the football that Bob Bradley wants has paid dividends for the Black & Gold in the first half of games. In 2019, LAFC have an overall record of 16-0-0 when leading at halftime. It does not get much better than that.
Defend The Banc
Combining the 2018 and 2019 seasons (including playoffs), LAFC have an impressive record of 23-3-10 when playing at Banc of California Stadium. The atmosphere that the 3252 creates in the stands makes it a hostile environment for opponents to play in. In 2019 only, the Black & Gold are undefeated at home when Tyler Miller is the starting goalkeeper (14-0-3). In addition, LAFC have scored 53 goals and have only conceded 23 goals over 18 home matches in the 2019 season. The goals are guaranteed at the Banc in this one.
LAFC forwards Brian Rodriguez and Adama Diomande both have never faced the Seattle Sounders before in their career. On the other side, Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz has never faced LAFC. It will be interesting to see how both defenses “welcome” their opponent’s strikers in what promises to be a physical battle.
No Excuses For Seattle This Time
The Sounders have been hit with a bit of misfortune over the first few meetings against LAFC. This time around, Seattle has a full strength roster with no injuries and no suspensions. During their first meeting in 2018, the Sounders were in the middle of Champions League play and were resting some key players for their continental match. For the second meeting in 2018, the Sounders had lost Jordan Morris for the season due to injury. Fast forward to 2019, Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz was forced to miss both matchups due to injury. To top things off, Seattle midfielder Christian Roldan was ejected from the game early in the 18th minute when the teams played in Seattle earlier this year. Those all may sound like excuses to some, but having a full-strength Seattle Sounders will surely bring out the best in LAFC.
Seattle’s Attacking Trio
LAFC will need to be mindful of the entire Sounders team but with special attention to three specific players in Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz. Lodeiro is the creative force and engine in the midfield with a license to roam between the opponent’s midfielders and defenders. Up to this point, LAFC has done a good job containing his attacks. Morris gives the Sounders pace on the wings and if the Black & Gold plan to project their outside backs forward, it could leave Morris in a one-on-one duel with either Walker Zimmerman or Eddie Segura. As for Ruidiaz, the Peruvian international is technically-gifted striker who is not very big in size but can punish you with his excellent finishing skills. In the playoffs, Lodeiro has 6 goals and 4 assists from 15 games played while Ruidiaz has 4 goals and 4 assists from 4 games played.
Both LAFC and Seattle have their flaws but it will be the team that makes the least mistakes that advances to the MLS Cup Final on November 10th. LAFC tend to press high and leave spaces in the back that Seattle could take advantage of if they are willing to commit numbers forward. However, LAFC are one of the best teams in MLS at using the counter press due to players like Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye (if healthy) executing transition football to perfection. Seattle will try and prevent the transition from happening by clogging the midfield with up to four players and outnumber LAFC’s midfield trio.
There are questions in regards to which lineup Bob Bradley will select to take the field in certain areas of the field. Does Walker Zimmerman return to the starting XI? If so, does Tristan Blackmon get the start at RB over Steven Beitashour? Is Mark-Anthony Kaye healthy enough to play? Will Adama Diomande mirror the “super sub” impact he had against the Galaxy?
We will find out soon.
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