Preview — The incredibly wild adventure that is the 2020 season is nearing its conclusion. What started as a one-off tournament in the sweltering Orlando summer evolved into a shortened conclusion to MLS’ 25th season. In addition to all the concerns of playing during a pandemic, teams had to navigate a plethora of social issues occurring off the field.
However, through the ups, downs, injuries and set-backs, LAFC has punched its ticket to the postseason. With a match against the defending champions, LAFC look to upset Seattle Sounders en route to an MLS Cup run of their own.
LAFC Look to Upset Seattle in Round One of MLS Playoffs
This marks the third-straight year in the playoffs for the black and gold. They are the first expansion side since Seattle joined MLS, to reach the postseason in each of their first three seasons in the league. While 2020 has undoubtedly been the toughest season this young club has endured so far, they still have a legitimate chance at finishing with the ultimate prize, an MLS Cup.
While it may feel like years have passed, it was just in August when reigning MVP Carlos Vela challenged his team, saying, “This year, anything that is not winning the title would be a failure for us.”
However, for the second straight year, LAFC face a familiar foe, one not a stranger to MLS glory, the Seattle Sounders.
As if playing the Sounders in the opening round wasn’t enough, LAFC will do so short-handed, much like their match-up from just over a month ago. While LAFC secured a 3-0 upset in that match, Seattle have shown meeting them in the postseason, is a different beast.
Normally, the biggest concern during international friendlies is the possibility of injury to a club’s key player. However, this year, concerns range from injury to COVID-19 contraction. Unfortunately for LAFC, they have been hit hard by the latter. Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez, Eddie Segura and Diego Palacios have all tested positive for COVID. This means that all four will be out for the team’s trip to Seattle. While all signs point to a Sounders rout, LAFC still have Carlos Vela, Eduard Atuesta and a returning Mark-Anthony Kaye.
They still have a chance.
— LAFC (@LAFC) November 21, 2020
Saving the Season for LAFC
In a year as unpredictable and complex as this one, to say a team is in ‘MLS Cup or bust’ mode would be harsh. However, this match is a battle of sides that both feel as though this season could have gone better. The Sounders had decent start to the year, then hit a wall, and have struggled to find consistency down the final stretch of the season.
For LAFC, consistency has only been found when it comes to dealing with injuries, and not so much play on the pitch. Missing key players throughout the year has been a big reason for the inconsistencies on the pitch.
Both sides come into tomorrow hoping to use the first round as a springboard. The winner of this match will be the favorite moving forward, with FC Dallas cutting down the Timbers in a penalty shootout. While this may not be the ‘win the cup or fail’ season, LAFC are still watching a championship window inch shut with each passing day. A win tomorrow will not only boost morale, but would set them up for a legitimate Cup run, with the prospect of four key players returning.
Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown
After wading through a majority of the season without their star forward, LAFC will now have to lean on El Rey, if they want to advance. With both Rossi and Rodriguez out, the weight of the attack falls squarely on Vela. In 2019, Seattle bounced LAFC out of the playoffs in the Western Semifinals, winning 3-1.
In that match, they recorded 12 fouls, with most of them on Vela. They had a plan to cut the head off the snake, and in a lot of ways, it worked. While you can question referee decisions, and no-calls, the fact remains, they were able to throw Los Angeles off enough to secure the win and eventual MLS Cup.
If the opening to the playoffs this past weekend taught us anything, it’s that relying on the refs, is a losing prospect. Make no mistake, Seattle will likely have that exact same game plan for tomorrow, especially with both Rossi and Rodriguez not available. The only other threat on goal, would be BWP, who has yet to feature in a match with Vela.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old starlet Christian Torres will be given his first post-season start as well. While it is always hopeful that others will step up in big moments, the truth is Vela will need a Herculean effort, and a few goals, to help carry his team past the Sounders.
— LAFC (@LAFC) November 22, 2020
The Last Word on LAFC vs. Seattle
I’ve been torn on how important an MLS Cup is to LAFC this season. When the season began way back in February, there was definitely a sense of ‘win it now’ amongst the club. However, after the pandemic put a halt to the season, and then a brief return with the MLS is Back tournament, it became harder to expect the most from this side. While it is easy to point to how weird this year has been, every team is in the same position. Each team had to deal with issues off the pitch as well as navigating the issues that arise with playing a season during a pandemic.
In addition, while it may be a hot-take, this year is more representative of a typical season in sports than the myth that was 2019. A year for LAFC where they suffered no long-term injuries to key players, had the best player, playing his best soccer, the best defense and the most goals scored. Yet, even with all that, they fell to this Sounders side in the playoffs.
The chances of completing a season, in any sport, without injuries or obstacles to overcome, are extremely slim. So, while the world has faced a once in a lifetime pandemic, the rest of the problems faced by LAFC are typical of sport. Look no further than the city’s Lakers and Dodgers, both won championships, navigating this incredibly strange year.
In the end, failing to win the MLS Cup wouldn’t mean a failure of a season. However, even as short-handed as they are, this team has truckloads of motivation and Carlos Vela, when you have those, you are never truly an underdog.
“Everyone is an option right now, training has been good. You can tell how eager the players are.”
— LAFC (@LAFC) November 22, 2020