David versus Goliath. Elephant versus mouse. A climb on Mount Everest.
Use whatever euphemism you want, but Tuesday’s Major League Soccer Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles F.C. looks like a massive mismatch.
How do the No. 2 Sounders travel to No. 1 L.A. and beat the best team in the league? It’s a daunting task for sure. But is an upset possible?
I think so.
Here are five things I think the Sounders need to do to walk into Bank of California Stadium Tuesday night and strut out of there with a ticket to the MLS Cup Final:
1. Score early. Yes, it is a no-brainer, but LAFC only lost once at home this season, and they hold a 13-1-3 record on their home turf. An early tally will not only take the hostile crowd out of the match, but it will send a signal to LA that the Sounders are not to be intimidated.
LA is being touted as the best team EVER in MLS, and their 72 points offer a compelling argument. They scored 85 goals, 23 more than any other team, and they boast the Coach of the Year in head coach, Bob Bradley, and the front-runner for league MVP in Carlos Vela.
LA is coming off a 5-3 dismantling of their cross-town rival LA Galaxy last week when they scored at will. Their confidence is high, but an early score from the Sounders will put a scare into LAFC and hopefully knock them out of their game plan.
2. Limit mistakes. The Sounders have a tendency to give up the ball too easily. LAFC is counting on it. If Seattle can hold onto the ball in possession and not turn it over, that will hinder LA’s transition game.
LA is most successful when the game gets spread out and they can use their speed and technical skill to take on opponents one-on-one when there are wide open spaces in transition following turnovers.
3. Stay compact. As I just stated, LA is best when the game gets stretched out. The Sounders must keep their defense compact, especially in the final third of the field. This will keep LA from isolating Sounders, allowing their superior technical skill to take over and making them so dangerous.
Keeping the defensive shape is crucial. It will provide Seattle with multiple bodies to slow LA down and hopefully force errant shots and giveaways.
4. Contain Carlos Vela. Vela is as good as it gets in this league and is a shoo-in to win the league MVP. He scored 34 goals, which alone is amazing. But what makes him even more dangerous is his ability to see the whole field and distribute the ball to his teammates if there is not a goal-scoring opportunity for himself. He has 15 assists on the year (third in the league), so keeping the ball away from him will be crucial.
5. Finish Their Chances. LA only gave up a league-best 37 goals this season, so their defense is solid. They do an incredible job of limiting opponents’ opportunities in front of goal. It will be a critical part of the game when Seattle does create chances to put them in the back of the net.
Throughout the season, the Sounders have done a good job of being dangerous in the final third of the field, but their technical ability tends to let them down. They will need to be as sharp as they have been all season if they are to escape with a win.
You can’t win if you don’t score goals. When the chances arrive, Raul Ruidiaz, Jordon Morris, and Nicolas Lodeiro need to be on top of their game.
The task is monumental and downright scary. Going into a hostile environment and slaying the league’s best team will take the best game the Sounders have played all season. No question.
Seattle always seems to rise to the occasion and put their best foot forward come playoff time. Let’s hope that trend continues on Tuesday.